Tuesday, September 30, 2008
• Comparing Crises:
The 1930s, the 1970s, and Today by Ingo Schmidt
• The $700 billion already stolen without Congress seems not to have helped.
Of course, sane people know that nobody "lost" anything yesterday, that stocks go up and down and this too shall pass because the rich will now buy low, hold, then sell off, then buy low again.
But for now, Wall Street and its propaganda arm (the networks and media it owns) will continue to try and scare the bejesus out of you. It will be harder to get a loan. Some people will lose their jobs. A weak nation of wimps won't last long under this torture. Or will we? Is this our line in the sand?
Here's my guess: The Democratic leadership in the House secretly hoped all along that this lousy bill would go down. With Bush's proposals shredded, the Dems knew they could then write their own bill that favors the average American, not the upper 10% who were hoping for another kegger of gold.
So the ball is in the Democrats' hands. The gun from Wall Street remains at their head. Before they make their next move, let me tell you what the media kept silent about while this bill was being debated:
1. The bailout bill had NO enforcement provisions for the so-called oversight group that was going to monitor Wall Street's spending of the $700 billion;
2. It had NO penalties, fines or imprisonment for any executive who might steal any of the people's money;
3. It did NOTHING to force banks and lenders to rewrite people's mortgages to avoid foreclosures -- this bill would not have stopped ONE foreclosure!;
4. It had NO teeth anywhere in the entire piece of legislation, using words like "suggested" when referring to the government being paid back for the bailout;
5. Over 200 economists wrote to Congress and said this bill might actually WORSEN the "financial crisis" and cause even MORE of a meltdown.
Put a fork in this slab of pork. It's over. Now it is time for our side to state very clearly the laws WE want passed. I will send you my proposals later today. We've bought ourselves less than 72 hours.
Some beginnings worth thinking about:
• Progressive Shock Doctrine
• History of a Liberal Shock Doctrine
• Dean Baker
• Ian Walsh
• Robert Reich
(All three via.)
• James K. Galbraith
• Draft of the No Bail-Outs Act
• Panel of economist reactions at TPM
Monday, September 29, 2008
Why is he letting the Republicans (that is, the Republican Study Group/assorted lunatics who only oppose the bailout because they want more tax cuts for the rich, more deregulation and private profits) steal all the thunder?
Sure he's still only campaigning, and such principled, ideological bravery against his political nature (not to mention economic advisors). But what an opportunity to fight for and write a moment of history that actually punished, instead of rewarded predatory Wall Street criminals, definitively closed the book on a failed ideology of fundamentalist free market capitalism (Reagan included, though his name is NEVER mentioned in conjunction with the crash of '87) and accomplished some enduring good for the middle class and America as a whole for potentially decades to come.
Update: Digby truly gets it.
Update II: Digby also unearths an article written by Rick Perlstein last month which argues the historical problem and opportunity even better. Read all of both. And hope this spirit of spine-building catches on.
Update III: America Needs a New New Deal, by Katrina vanden Heuvel & Eric Schlosser (via)
The House on Monday rejected a $700 billion Wall Street bailout that would have been the biggest government intervention in the financial system since the Great Depression. "Vermonters and people across America are saying very clearly that this bailout is a bad idea and that the struggling middle class should not have to pay for the greed and excesses of Wall Street.
“With the House vote today,” the senator added, “it is time to send a loud and clear message that if a bailout is necessary, it must be paid for by those on Wall Street who caused the problem and the very wealthy who pocketed huge profits. Any effective program to help the economy also should re-regulate the financial services industry that has gotten a pass in the past decade, include an economic recovery program to put Americans to work at decent wages, and break up huge companies so that there is no longer anything that is too big to fail.”
Sanders’ letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson calls for a five-year, 10 percent surtax on individuals with more than $500,000 income and couples with combined incomes of more than $1 million. The surtax would raise more than $300 billion to help pay for losses on assets taken over by the government.
In addition to the 50 thousand co-signers of Sanders’ letter that was first posted only one week ago, a new Web poll today also is reflecting overwhelming opposition to the bailout that the House rejected.
To read and sign the letter to the Treasury secretary, click here.
top managers will continue to receive million-dollar-a-month paychecks under this new bill. There is no direct ownership given to the American people for the money being handed over. Foreign banks and investors will be allowed to receive billion-dollar handouts.
...the reason so many Dems are behind this is because Wall Street this weekend put a gun to their heads and said either turn over the $700 billion or the first thing we'll start blowing up are the pension funds and 401(k)s of your middle class constituents.
Here's someone who's read the bill and plans to vote against it.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
...in these early days of the twenty-first century, the suicide of a writer does not mark their body of work, does not inflect it, in the same manner in which it did previously, during the epoch of Romanticism. Is literary Romanticism dead? Perhaps, although it is still too early to say; either way, the terrain in which we are writing and living and dying is shifting; the definition of tragedy today also needs to be examined further. Although we could argue that everything is anachronistic, that we live in an epoch with no sense of itself, and that we occupy a dislocated era, an age out of its proper time, an age Foster Wallace predicted, from a literary perspective, the suicide of David Foster Wallace, or for that matter, the suicide of any writer in the 21st century, is of no importance.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Only they're not supposed to talk about this agenda openly. Because it makes them seem like blatant opportunists, liars and crooks. Here's naive and idiotic Sarah Palin talking about it openly (or trying to), seemingly offering a string of non-sequitors in direct response to a question about the bailout.
She seems to have grasped, or overheard somewhere, that this disaster means an opportunity down the road for things like health care "reform" (of the wildly unpopular, hatchet sort), but she obviously hasn't grasped that she isn't supposed to talk about it quite that way. Expect her to be kept out of sight until she can be made to understand the game, or at least keep her mouth shut and memorize some equivocal slogans and platitudes to respond to questions on economics.
• 95% of working families would get a tax cut from Obama
• 100 million Americans would get NO tax cut from McCain
• Most would get a larger tax cut from Obama
They also have a handy, non-partisan tax calculator under each plan. And links to everything you might be curious to know.
Here are the numbers:
1. Pre-tax $200-500k: Obama raises taxes $3,546, McCain cuts $1,892.
2. Pre-tax $500-1mil: Obama raises taxes $30,499, McCain cuts $6,825.
3. Pre-tax $1mil+: Obama raises taxes $262,371, McCain cuts $58,632.
In sum, Obama's plan involves
* large increases in taxes paid by the highest-earning Americans, who represent a very small share of people but take in a (relatively) very large share of pre-tax income, coupled with
* moderate-to-large reductions in the net tax bill faced by everyone else.
By contrast, McCain's plan involves
* smaller, but still large, reductions in taxes paid by the highest-earning Americans, coupled with
* very small reductions in the net tax bill faced by everyone else.
(I stress again that both plans add substantially to the federal debt relative to current law, which means that someone will have to pay the bill later; again, though, that bill would be smaller with Obama's plan than with McCain's.)
This chart tells a pretty simple story. McCain's plan would reduce all groups' average tax rates, though generally by very little. Except for those making more than a million dollars a year, who would see a drop in average tax rates of 1.8 points, McCain's plan would reduce the average tax rate by less than one percentage point across the board.
By contrast, Obama's plan would reduce average tax rates by a moderate to large amount (between 1.4 and 8.1 percentage points) for all groups with pre-tax income below $75k; those in the $75-100k and $100-200k groups would see average tax rates fall by 0.8 and 0.3 percent. Most notably, those in the three highest groups would see moderately small (1.2 percent for $200-500k) to large (4.1 and 8.0 percent for those making $500k-$1mil and $1mil+) increases in their average tax rates.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
After pointlessly signing the above, well worth listening to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now:
I’m also arguing that this is only stage one of the shock doctrine. They’re getting this—they’re lobbying for this huge bailout, obviously, but this bailout is a kind of a time bomb, because it’s all these bad debts, and they are going to explode on the next administration. I mean, we know that the Bush administration has already left the next administration with huge debt and deficit problems. They’ve just exploded those, expanded them. And what that means is that whoever the next president is is going to be inheriting this economic crisis that is being exacerbated by this bailout.
So, in the case of McCain, I think—if he’s the president, then I think we know what he’ll do, because we know he wants to privatize Social Security, which is something that Wall Street’s been wanting for a long time, another bubble. We know he has said in the next—in the first 100 days of his administration he’ll look at every program and either reform it or shut it down. This is really a recipe for economic shock therapy. So, while you have all of these trivial issues being discussed in the election season, I think what we could—what we’re really—you know, under the surface, they’re actually being quite clear. They’re going to take—if they take power, it will be in the midst of an economic emergency. They’ll invoke that emergency to push through very, very radical changes. So, you know, what I’ve been saying is, this is not four more years of Bush; it’s much, much worse in the case of another Republican administration.
But there’s huge problems for Democrats, as well, if they win this election, because, you know, we need to only think back to the situation in which Clinton took power, where he ran an election on an economic populist platform, promising to renegotiate NAFTA. Then there was an economic crisis. Clinton came under intense lobbying by people like Robert Rubin, who’s also advising Obama right now, and by the time he took office, he had embraced economic austerity.
So, people need to understand these tactics, need to put pressure on the candidates, the parties, and reject this tactic. And I’ve actually been really heartened, Amy, that people are onto these shock tactics and aren’t falling for it. And, you know, to the extent that we’re seeing a little bit of spine from the Democrats, it is only, as Chris Dodd said, because they are hearing it from their constituents. So people need to keep up this pressure right now.
there is pressure being put on Congress from Democrats who—you know, we’ve heard the proposals to cap executive pay and to have a moratorium on foreclosures. It’s coming not from all Democrats, but from some. But there’s something going on on the Republican side, where you have people like Newt Gingrich, and you also have the Republican Study Committee, which is a group of very influential Republican lawmakers who are saying that they’re opposed to the bailout, and they also have their wish list. And I think it is that it’s not that they’re going to oppose a bailout completely; it’s that they want economic changes, right-wing, pro-corporate economic changes, attached to a bailout. So, Newt Gingrich has his list. He’s got eighteen demands. But I think even more important than that is the Republican Study Committee, and I raise this because they’ve just issued their ransom list. It starts with suspending the capital gains tax, privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, suspending mark-to-market accounting, which is the rule that requires companies to assess their assets at current market values.
So, what’s so stunning about this, Amy, is that here you have a crisis that everyone seems to agree is borne of deregulation, and they’re actually calling for more deregulation. We have a situation where the debt is exploding on American taxpayers, and they want to suspend corporate profits—sorry, corporate taxes, which is actually what might defray some of those costs from regular taxpayers. So it’s an incredible display of opportunism. And this is what I mean by stage two of the shock doctrine. The first stage is just the bailout, but the second stage are all of these radical reforms that are going to be invoked in the name of the crisis that the bailout is creating, whether it’s pushed through right now or whether it’s pushed through later.
But what’s important—you know, Amy, in the book, I talk about—I start the book with a quote from Milton Friedman that has really made the rounds a lot lately, which is that—and this is a Friedman quote—that “only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. And when the crisis occurs, the change depends on the ideas that are lying around." And then he goes on to say, “That, I believe, is our basic function: to keep the ideas ready until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.” So I think it’s really important for people to look at the ideas that are lying around.
There’s enormous corporate lobbying going on to, for instance, eliminate the post-Enron collapse regulations, to actually say that the way to save the American economy—you know, you heard Henry Paulson equating—still equating the interests of the financial sector with the interests of everyone else. We know that’s simply not true. But it’s that—precisely that logic that then is used to say, OK, these are the—this is what the financial community, this is what the corporate world needs in order to revive the economy: they need less regulation, they need less taxation.
So, we should be really, really wary of this claim that we’re hearing that free market ideology is dead, that this marks the end of, you know, of capitalism. You know, I’m sorry, that is not the case. It may be going dormant for a little while to rationalize these massive bailouts, but it will come roaring back, and the crisis that is being deepened right now through these bailouts will be invoked for even more radical deregulation, privatization, tax cuts and so on...
I don't think we can stress this enough...Henry Paulson ["Mr. Risk" himself, former Nixon administration pal] is one of the key people, one of the top people responsible for creating the crisis that he is now claiming he will solve...it's this state of regression that we go into...Henry Paulson has been cast as an economic Rudy Guiliani, saving the day, impartial, bi-partisan, a strong leader....Henry Paulson is...bailing out his colleagues [and himself].
As for "Dems that don't suck" as Corrente aptly puts it, watch Marcy Kaptur.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
In cruder language the operators of these two giants [Fannie and Freddie] had been engaged in the pleasant activity of cooking the books by borrowing at low-interest government rates, selling the repackaged mortgages at a higher-interest markup and then lying about the their actual exposures. "Fannie and Freddie were almost single-handedly supporting the junk mortgage market that was making Wall Street rich," economist Michael Hudson told Counterpunch the Monday after the takeover, protecting themselves from regulatory harassment by shoveling campaign contributions at the relevant lawmakers sitting on the financial committees in Washington.
Now the Treasure is refloating these two huge casinos and sending them down the river again ["sticking the taxpayers with a $300 billion tab"], so that Wall Street can stay happy and China and the other overseas lenders can be assured that the money they're lending the United States....is at least partly secured.[...]
Even Swift could not depict...McCain offering himself as the foe of special interests when his economic advisor is former Senator Phil Gramm, the key player in Congress in the late '90s in the deregulatory assaults that overthrew Glass-Steagall, opened the door to the derivatives scams and greased Wall Street's wheels as it plunged the economy into the present crisis. Obama alluded obliquely to Gramm without naming him in his Denver speech[...] But why not identify McCain's detestable associate [who recently called America "a nation of whiners"]? The problem is that co-conspiring in Gramm's deregulatory rampages in the late '90s was the Clinton Administration, spurred on by the Democratic Leadership Council. On the ticket with Obama is that lifelong serf of the banks, Joe Biden[...]
When they look back on it, people will surely see this election as one of the larger missed opportunities in the nation's history for scrutiny and shake-up of our economic and imperial arrangements: an unpopular war abroad, brazen thievery by the rich and powerful at home, widespread discontent of huge slabs of the electorate, beleaguered by debt, low wages and joblessness. How easy it should have been for a politician as eloquent and intelligent as Obama to create an irresistible popular constituency challenging business as usual. But what's positively eerie is the cautious sensitivity of his political antennas, alerting him time and again to the risks of actually saying or pledging anything substantive[...] Small wonder it's hard to remember much that he says, because so little that he does say is ever substantively memorable or surprising or exciting; no wonder that Sarah Palin is proving so successful a distraction.
support The Nation Magazine.
Too bad for Cockburn the distraction is already wearing out...
For various reasons, I recommend this.
Five Direly Underappreciated U.S. novels >1960
The Uncollected DFW
Interviews and Audio
Wallace dramatised the need and urge to keep the proliferating networks of our culture in view and under control, at a time when they have passed beyond the compass of any human mind. Addiction, the oft-cited overarching "theme" of Infinite Jest, means nothing if not a quest for an always-elusive mastery of fate. And his memorialising fans now seem addicted to the same pursuit of an integrated, it-all-adds-up meaning.
But that is not quite right.
Update: I like what The Existence Machine has to say, very much. Although I prefer to remember the non-fiction right now, particularly for its humor, and maybe the hint of a different relation to his sadness that–who knows–might have led to somewhere else. But it was not his truest voice. Wallace's writing seemed lighter, which is to say the perpetual note of sadness became muted, perhaps in deference to some journalistic style that one could argue was a little false, in the end. Still, I'll re-read A Supposedly Fun Thing before Brief Interviews...if only to work up the patience for the latter. It will be hard to see the sadness as anything but king, finally.
Update II: This is extremely good, by A. O. Scott (sub - now partially liberated):
Reviewing a biography of Jorge Luis Borges in The New York Times Book Review a few years back, David Foster Wallace attacked the standard biographical procedure of mining the lives of writers for clues to their work, and vice versa. Borges’s stories, he insisted, “so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant.”
What’s true of writers’ lives is also, surely, true of their deaths. The temptation to regard Mr. Wallace’s suicide last weekend as anything other than a private tragedy must be resisted. But the strength of the temptation should nonetheless be acknowledged. Mr. Wallace was hardly one to conceal himself within his work; on the contrary, his personality is stamped on every page — so much so that the life and the work can seem not just connected but continuous.
The moods that Mr. Wallace distilled so vividly on the page — the gradations of sadness and madness embedded in the obsessive, recursive, exhausting prose style that characterized both his journalism and his fiction — crystallized an unhappy collective consciousness. And it came through most vividly in his voice. Hyperarticulate, plaintive, self-mocking, diffident, overbearing, needy, ironical, almost pathologically self-aware (and nearly impossible to quote in increments smaller than a thousand words) — it was something you instantly recognized even hearing it for the first time. It was — is — the voice in your own head.
Or mine, at any rate. When, as an undergraduate with a head full of literary theory and a heartsick longing for authenticity, I first encountered David Foster Wallace, I experienced what is commonly called the shock of recognition. Actually, shock is too clean, too safe a word for my uncomfortable sense that not only did I know this guy, but he knew me. He could have been a T.A. in one of my college courses, or the slightly older guy in Advanced Approaches to Interpretation who sat slightly aloof from the others and had not only mastered the abstruse and trendy texts everyone else was reading, but also skipped backward, sideways and ahead. It was impressive enough that he could do philosophy — the mathematical kind, not just the French kind. But he also played tennis — Mr. Wallace, in fact, had competed seriously in the sport — and could quote lyrics from bands you only pretended you’d heard of. Without even trying, he was cooler than everyone else.
All this shone through Mr. Wallace’s fiction. He had the intellectual moves and literary tricks diagrammed in advance: the raised-eyebrow, mock-earnest references to old TV shows and comic books; the acknowledgment that truth was a language game. He was smarter than anyone else, but also poignantly aware that being smart didn’t necessarily get you very far, and that the most visible manifestations of smartness — wide erudition, mastery of trivia, rhetorical facility, love of argument for its own sake — could leave you feeling empty, baffled and dumb.
he was not only preoccupied with staking out a position in relation to other writers. Again and again, he returned to a basic, perhaps the basic, philosophical question facing anyone with a blank screen and a story to tell. What am I going to say? How am I going to say it? It’s never an easy question, but perhaps no one illustrated its difficulty with so much energy, good humor and conceptual rigor. In the story “Octet,” a section begins “you are, unfortunately, a fiction writer” and then proceeds, hilariously and infuriatingly, to diagram the dimensions of that misfortune. One long, brilliant, crazy footnote ends: “None of that was very clearly put and might well ought to get cut. It may be that none of this real-narrative-honesty-v.-sham-narrative-honesty stuff can even be talked about up front.”
And yet Mr. Wallace never stopped trying. Even when his subject matter took him outside himself — into the world of lobsters, tennis players, cruise-ship vacationers or presidential campaigners — the fundamental problems of writing remained in the foreground. I suspect that Mr. Wallace’s persona — at once unbearably sophisticated and hopelessly naïve, infinitely knowing and endlessly curious — will be his most durable creation.
“Infinite Jest” is a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric. The other big books published since by members of Mr. Wallace’s age cohort — “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides; “The Corrections,” by Jonathan Franzen; “The Fortress of Solitude,” by Jonathan Lethem; “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” by Michael Chabon — are more accessible, easier to connect with and to give prizes to. They are family chronicles, congenial hybrids of domestic melodrama, immigrant chronicle, magic realism as well as the more traditional kind. Not easy books, necessarily, but not aggressively difficult, either.
In their different ways, though, these novels and their authors — along with other itchy late- and post-boomer white guys like Richard Powers, Rick Moody and Dave Eggers — stand in Mr. Wallace’s shadow. Not because his version of their generational crisis was better or truer than theirs, but rather because it was purer and more rigorous. In some ways, the figure he resembles most is Ezra Pound. Not the loony, ranting figure Pound eventually became, but rather the innovative and uncompromising modernist he was in his prime. Pound, in the teens and 1920s, understood the literary logic of modernism, with its poetics of difficulty and allusiveness, more clearly than any of his contemporaries. He pushed his insights further, into an extreme, enormous, all-but-unreadable book — the “Cantos” — that is to high modernism what “Infinite Jest” is to late postmodernism.Outside of graduate classrooms, not many readers swallow the “Cantos” whole, and a similar fate may lie in store for “Infinite Jest.”[...]
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Last week, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin declared that she was willing to go to war against Russia on behalf of Georgia.:
The issue of "conflict of interest" takes on a new and apocalyptic meaning when you consider the role of energy giant BP in all of this. Palin's husband has spent most of his adult life, eighteen years, working for BP. The company is even more important to his wife, as BP owns Alaska's (and America's) largest gas and oil fields. BP hates Russia at least as much as their tools Palin and McCain: the company has been locked in a nasty battle over its 50 percent stake in Russian energy giant TNK--BP's stake in that company is key to BP's stock price. If BP loses TNK to Putin's goons, then billions could be wiped off the stock price. That's something to go to war for.
The Global Financial Mess: blaming the victims
America's Financial Meltdown: Lessons and Prospects
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Belatedly, R.I.P. Obit.
Toward a New New Cold War:
"...threat inflation work[s] to the advantage of both the US and the SU military-industrial complexes...A new new cold war is on the starting blocks, and the initiating party most certainly has been the United States."
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
...somewhat lost in the focus on Palin trying to censore books, build bridges, and requiring help to run a city of 5,000
So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone. And it's not difficult to see why. As the recent "overhaul" of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated -- preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror -- we've essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
The trick to both the immediacy of these memories (building a treehouse, drinking punch next to the pond) and the duration of the immediate events (Wasznar’s barn, converted to house Marek and Antonina’s family, burns in the background of the whole book) is that the narration never once detours from the present tense. This is much more unusual in German than it is in English: German fiction is written almost exclusively in the simple past tense, which is rarely a part of spoken speech. (Past events in spoken German are almost invariably described as, effectively, “having been done” rather than simply “done.”) The chief challenge of the translation has been to render this strangeness in English, where the present tense is an ordinary literary device. The translator, Ross Benjamin, who with his second effort proves himself perhaps the great German translator of Vennemann’s generation, has come up with an elegant and effective solution. He uses a historical present that English doesn’t have, as in the first quotation above: “we hear their songs for hours already.” This formulation is quite normal in German, but it jars in English in a way that communicates the strangeness of the tense usage[...]
One can’t help reading this as a reflection on the German storyteller’s anxiety that in writing about the Holocaust—in writing a story, in Vennemann’s case, about an event in which there are no survivors—he has pilfered from here and there and devised what has become his story. But, Close to Jedenew says, that might, by now, be okay; there is no other choice but to inhabit the invention. This is what it means to be the first Holocaust book from a generation of writers who do not feel burdened by guilt. It is a harrowing, remarkable, serious novel, in part because it is not a guilty one. This is no “never forget” platitude. This is new remembrance.