Wednesday, December 16, 2009
- The Tea Baggers
- The plutocratic (my term) Corporate establishment
- The Republican Party
- Wall Street
- Right wing Christians
- Cultural conservatives
- Cultural progressives
and many more players....
I will begin shortly - stay tuned....
Howard Dean is holding his own against tweety bird's hot air except Tweety says if you don't like your ins. co., go somewhere else - MONOPOLIES
dumb fuzzy headed corporate tweety (CMatthews) - passing medicare for all through reconciliation would DESTROY the Senate LOL
Tea party manipulated by Armey tool of corporatocracy anger at govt from amber level - progressives anger at Congress/Obama from green lvl.
I like Ed Shutlz & I share his anger re health care DEform, but he's not thinkin clearly-just stated that teapartiers want pub opt.!
Olbermann's comment is strong EXCEPT he thinks it's just Obama's weakness at fault not the truth-he's been bought & paid for by corps.
I like his prescription though - see vid I'll post later:
And Obama can say that you’re getting a lot, but also saying that it “covers everyone,” as if there’s a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don’t get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn’t even conservative, free market or otherwise. It’s some kind of weird corporatism that’s very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.
Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good. — and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don’t miss the money as much when they never see it.
What this huge electoral mandate and congressional majority have gotten us, then, is basically a deal with the insurance industry to accept 30 million coerced customers in exchange for ending their practice of failing to cover their customers when they get sick — unless they go beyond a “reasonable cap,” of course. (And profits go up!) If that’s the best we can expect of progressivism for the next generation then I’m afraid we are in deep trouble.
This is NOT progressivism; it's corporatist neoliberalism (or neoconservatism) - take your pick.
It's corporate plutocracy with the government part of the ruling system R or D, with 38 or so exceptions in the House and perhaps 4-5 in the Senate. if that.
Friday, November 13, 2009
They also are afraid of big government (except in its defense functions), because they are confusing the pre-individual collective oppression we had (on this planet) under communism and fascism with the trans-individual conscious collective "we" that is democratic government that represents us, that serves the large conscious "us," and is Constitutionally prohibited against transgressing our own civil rights. These unfortunate people who haven't even grown to full individuality to think for themselves are oblivious to the fact that we live in a corporate plutocracy, and the threat from that to our democracy and well being on all fronts is much greater than their delusional "big government" fears.
The further down the chain of consciousness one lives at, the more OTHERS one fears (rendered through hatred -same thing- aversion) others unlike oneself. The Islamic fundamentalists are prime examples, of course. The tea-partiers aren't too many levels above that.
The politicians, including the loathsome Lieberman, may have some right-wing ethnocentric, nationalistic, paranoid beliefs, but are more likely influenced by living large via contributions and other ways they are interested parties, funneling in filthy lucre from the big healthcare, energy, and military-industrial corporations.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The rot comes from predators posing as conservatives and mouthing the rhetoric of “free markets.” They are not actually interested in free markets. Their goal is to use the government to build monopolies, to control resources, to block regulation, to crush unions, to divert as much as possible from taxpayers into private pockets. They have a reckless attitude toward war-making and they put the financial system in peril by failing to enforce standards of ethics and transparency. As a result, they imperil the country’s credit in the world. True conservatives recognize this, which is why they defected from Bush and McCain long ago.
By James K. Galbraith
Can Capitalism survive? No. I do not think it can.
—Joseph Schumpeter, 1942
The problem is not how to save capitalism but how to save the unique and successful mixed economy built in the United States over the eighty-five years since the New Deal. Our system is not capitalism. Our economy has a large public sector, which at its best was competently concerned with research, defense, financial stability, environmental safety, social security, and large measures of education, health care, and housing. Today, after thirty years of attack on government, all these functions are damaged and in peril.
The rot comes from predators posing as conservatives and mouthing the rhetoric of “free markets.” They are not actually interested in free markets. Their goal is to use the government to build monopolies, to control resources, to block regulation, to crush unions, to divert as much as possible from taxpayers into private pockets. They have a reckless attitude toward war-making and they put the financial system in peril by failing to enforce standards of ethics and transparency. As a result, they imperil the country’s credit in the world. True conservatives recognize this, which is why they defected from Bush and McCain long ago.
Our postwar system was built on technological leadership, financial stability, and collective security. The world gave us credit and used our currency. Why? Because we gave it back the public goods of peace and economic progress. We were the bulwark during the Cold War. Our system wasn’t imperial: we spoke instead of community, of freedom, of common purposes and common values, and the world took us seriously because we had paid our dues.
The next successful system should be built on that model—that is, on the basis of regulated finance, collective security, and, above all, a national purpose. Since energy and climate change will dominate the global agenda for the next generation and perhaps even the following, dealing with these issues must become our generation’s purpose too. Although America is the world’s great energy wastrel, among developed countries we are the best positioned to change, to reduce our own fossil-fuel use and help the world do likewise. We have the science, the technology, the engineering, and the educational capacity to take the lead.
What we do not have is the capacity to figure out, in advance, a coherent national strategy toward this goal, and for using our government to advance that strategy. We have no capacity to plan, and that is what we need now.
“Planning” has been a dirty word in American politics for decades. For the hard-line right, planning destroyed freedom: it was the “road to serfdom.” Anti-planners also thought it a failure; for them the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was due to “central planning.” But without public planning, who is in charge? Lobbyists who represent the private planning of the great corporations. The public interest ceases to exist, and the public sector becomes nothing more than a trough at which private interests come to feed.
What the government needs most today is to regain an independent capacity to think. The government needs a way to imagine the future that is not dominated by lobbies or even by Congress so long as Congress is dominated by lobbies. Planning is a process: thinking, coordination, action. What is the long-term national interest? What specific targets must be met? What is the best way to do it, and who plays what role?
For instance, carbon prices and cap-and-trade systems will help to deal with the climate crisis, but they cannot do the whole job. Markets do not design new systems— new patterns of transport and housing, new technologies for electric power, for vehicles, for heating and cooling. To design a system, to put the pieces together, to identify the most promising lines of attack and take steps to achieve them: that is the planner’s role.
Imagine a Federal Department of Energy and Climate with real independence. It could make an honest evaluation of ethanol. It could review the prospects and assess the dangers of next-generation nuclear power. It could make a judgment on carbon capture. It could consider all the serious conservation proposals, such as Joe Kennedy’s program to retrofit housing in the snow belt. It could fund new research centers in the major universities, so that in a decade the country will have trained the experts we will need to implement the plans we make.
Planning is not coercive, but it should be privileged. Once Congress approves a plan, budgeting and appropriation rules should favor public capital spending that implements the plan. For instance, such investments would not be subject to “pay-go” restrictions; as long-term improvements, they properly should be funded by issuing long-term debt. The planning process would thus parallel the budget process, superseding it in the areas of infrastructure, technology, and environmental management that would be the main arenas for the plan. Dealing with the energy and climate crises will require direct public action and the cooperation of the private sector, which will be achieved in part by regulation and standards. Clearly, the challenge is daunting. But it’s not hopeless. If the country gets it right, all of us can have work for a generation, a better living standard afterward, and leave the planet more or less intact. And in addition, we stand a chance, otherwise improbable, of persuading the rest of the world to keep our line of credit open.
© November 2008 The Harper's Magazine Foundation.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
- The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999
- The Commodities Futures Modernization Act in 2000
Reinstate the firewall between commercial banks and investment banks, and reinstate strong transparent regulation of all "exotic" betting speculative financial instruments including derivatives and other new schemes.
Friday, October 30, 2009
And now there are five -- five Wall Street behemoths, bigger than they were before the Great Meltdown, paying fatter salaries and bonuses to retain their so-called"talent," and raking in huge profits. The biggest difference between now and last October is these biggies didn't know then that they were too big to fail and the government would bail them out if they got into trouble. Now they do. And like a giant, gawking adolescent who's just discovered he can crash the Lexus convertible his rich dad gave him and the next morning have a new one waiting in his driveway courtesy of a dad who can't say no, the biggies will drive even faster now, taking even bigger risks.
What to do? Two ideas are floating around Washington, but only one is supported by the Treasury and the White House. Unfortunately, it's the wrong one.
The right idea is to break up the giant banks. I don't often agree with Alan Greenspan but he was right when he said last week that "[i]f they're too big to fail, they're too big." Greenspan noted that the government broke up Standard Oil in 1911, and what happened? "The individual parts became more valuable than the whole. Maybe that's what we need to do." (Historic footnote: Had Greenspan not supported in 1999 Congress's repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, which separated investment from commercial banking, we wouldn't be in the soup we're in to begin with.)
Former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, whose only problem is he's much too tall, last week told the New York Times he'd like to see the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act provisions that would separate the financial giants' deposit-taking activities from their investment and trading businesses. If this separation went into effect, JPMorgan Chase would have to give up the trading operations acquired from Bear Stearns. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch would go back to being separate companies. And Goldman Sachs could no longer be a bank holding company.
But the Obama Administration doesn't agree with either Greenspan or Volcker. While it says it doesn't want another bank bailout, its solution to the 'too big to fail' problem doesn't go nearly far enough. In fact, it doesn't really go anywhere. The Administration would wait until a giant bank was in danger of failing and then put it into a process akin to bankruptcy. The bank's assets would be sold off to pay its creditors, and its shareholders would likely walk off with nothing. The Treasury would determine when such a "resolution" process was needed, and appoint a receiver, such as the FDIC, to wind down the bank's operations.
There should be an orderly process for putting big failing banks out of business. But this isn't nearly enough. By the time a truly big bank gets into trouble -- one that poses a "systemic risk" to the entire economy -- it's too late. Other banks, competing like mad for the same talent and profits, will already have adopted many of the excessively-risky banks' techniques. And the pending failure will already have rocked the entire financial sector.
Worse yet, the Administration's plan gives the big failing bank an escape hatch: The receiver might decide that the bank doesn't need to go out of business after all -- that all it needs is some government money to tide it over until the crisis passes. So the Treasury would also have the authority to provide the bank with financial assistance in the form of loans or guarantees. In other words, back to bailout. (Historical footnote: Summers and Geithner, along with Bob Rubin, while at Treasury in 1999, joined Greenspan in urging Congress to repeal Glass-Steagall. The four of them -- Greenspan, Summers, Rubin and Geithner also refused to regulate derivatives, and pushed Congress to stop the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation from doing so.)
Congress is cooking up a variation on the "resolution" idea that would give the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation authority to trigger and handle the winding-down of big banks in trouble, without Treasury involvement, and without an escape hatch.
Needless to say, Wall Street favors the Administration's approach -- which is why the Administration chose it to begin with. If I were less charitable I'd say Geithner and Summers continue to bend over bankwards to make Wall Street happy, and in doing so continue to risk the credibility of the president, as well as the long-term financial stability of the system.
Wall Street could live with the slightly less delectable variation that Congress is coming up with. But Congress won't go as far as to unleash the antitrust laws on the big banks or resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act. After all, the Street is a major benefactor of Congress and the Street's lobbyists and lackeys are all over Capitol Hill.
The Street obviously detests the notion that its behemoths should be broken up. That's why the idea isn't even on the table. But it should be. No important public interest is served by allowing giant banks to grow too big to fail. Winding them down after they get into trouble is no answer. By then the damage will already have been done.
Whether it's using the antitrust laws or enacting a new Glass-Steagall Act, the Wall Street giants should be split up -- and soon.
my comment -
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Obama admin. fights against breaking up TBTF casino banks/financial houses
The Obama admin. is going against Paul Volker, who is advising them.
The administration is resisting reinstating Glass-Steagall, (undoing the main culprit in our current economic disaster The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999), meaning reinstating the firewall between investment banks and commercial banks (breaking up the too-big-to-fail behemoths), the repeal of which law in 1999 set off the casino capitalism on Wall St. and led to the meltdown we're now in, worldwide:
Read - from thinkprogress .org and from The New York Times -
Last week, the New York Times reported that Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Chairman and current head of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, is having a hard time within the administration selling his view that banks should be forced to separate their depository functions from their investment banking wings. “People say I’m old-fashioned and banks can no longer be separated from nonbank activity,” Volcker said. “That argument brought us to where we are today.”
One of the manifestations of that argument was the repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, which from 1933 to 1999 prohibited a bank holding company from owning investment arms. The prohibition was repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, after intense lobbying on the part of two companies that wanted to merge: Travelers (which owned the investment bank Salomon Smith Barney) and Citicorp. These two companies combined to create Citigroup.
Of course, Citigroup received $50 billion in TARP money, and is not likely to pay back anytime soon, which has evidently led to some soul-searching on the part of John Reed, the former Citi CEO whose “strenuous lobbying” helped lead to the Glass-Steagal repeal. Real Times Economics noted that Reed penned a letter to the New York Times saying that things were better the old way:
As another older banker and one who has experienced both the pre- and post-Glass-Steagall world, I would agree with Paul A. Volcker (and also Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England) that some kind of separation between institutions that deal primarily in the capital markets and those involved in more traditional deposit-taking and working-capital finance makes sense. This, in conjunction with more demanding capital requirements, would go a long way toward building a more robust financial sector.
As Noam Scheiber wrote, “Wow. Maybe the consensus on this really is starting to change.”
Many economists blame the repeal of Glass-Steagal for inciting a casino-like mentality in a previously staid banking industry. “The culture of investment banks was conveyed to commercial banks and everyone got involved in the high-risk gambling mentality. That mentality was core to the problem that we’re facing now,” said Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
Of course, separating investment banking from deposit-taking wouldn’t have solved all of the ills in the financial sector. After all, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns would not have been any better off. At the end of the day, much stronger capital and leverage requirements and a resolution authority for unwinding any firm, no matter how complicated, will do a lot to ensure that a giant financial institution doesn’t need to be propped up in order to protect the wider economy.That said, it’s surprising the extent to which the administration has ducked and dodged this question. At least, some discussion of a policy that ensures banks aren’t mixing risky with non-risky activities internally (even if it doesn’t amount to breaking the companies up) should be on the table.
Volcker Fails to Sell a Bank Strategy
Listen to a top economist in the Obama administration describe Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who endorsed Mr. Obama early in his election campaign and who stood by his side during the financial crisis.
“The guy’s a giant, he’s a genius, he is a great human being,” said Austan D. Goolsbee, counselor to Mr. Obama since their Chicago days. “Whenever he has advice, the administration is very interested.”
Well, not lately. The aging Mr. Volcker (he is 82) has some advice, deeply felt. He has been offering it in speeches and Congressional testimony, and repeating it to those around the president, most of them young enough to be his children.
He wants the nation’s banks to be prohibited from owning and trading risky securities, the very practice that got the biggest ones into deep trouble in 2008. And the administration is saying no, it will not separate commercial banking from investment operations.
“I am not pounding the desk all the time, but I am making my point,” Mr. Volcker said in one of his infrequent on-the-record interviews. “I have talked to some senators who asked me to talk to them, and if people want to talk to me, I talk to them. But I am not going around knocking on doors.”
Still, he does head the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which makes him the administration’s most prominent outside economic adviser. As Fed chairman from 1979 to 1987, he helped the country weather more than one crisis. And in the campaign last year, he appeared occasionally with Mr. Obama, including a town hall meeting in Florida last fall. His towering presence (he is 6-foot-8) offered reassurance that the candidate’s economic policies, in the midst of a crisis, were trustworthy.
More subtly, Mr. Obama has in Mr. Volcker an adviser perceived as standing apart from Wall Street, and critical of its ways, some administration officials say, while Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, and Lawrence H. Summers, chief of the National Economic Council, are seen, rightly or wrongly, as more sympathetic to the concerns of investment bankers.
For all these reasons, Mr. Volcker’s approach to financial regulation cannot be just brushed off — and Mr. Goolsbee, speaking for the administration, is careful not to do so. “We have discussed these issues with Paul Volcker extensively,” he said.
Mr. Volcker’s proposal would roll back the nation’s commercial banks to an earlier era, when they were restricted to commercial banking and prohibited from engaging in risky Wall Street activities.
The Obama team, in contrast, would let the giants survive, but would regulate them extensively, so they could not get themselves and the nation into trouble again. While the administration’s proposal languishes, giants like Goldman Sachs have re-engaged in old trading practices, once again earning big profits and planning big bonuses.
Mr. Volcker argues that regulation by itself will not work. Sooner or later, the giants, in pursuit of profits, will get into trouble. The administration should accept this and shield commercial banking from Wall Street’s wild ways.
“The banks are there to serve the public,” Mr. Volcker said, “and that is what they should concentrate on. These other activities create conflicts of interest. They create risks, and if you try to control the risks with supervision, that just creates friction and difficulties” and ultimately fails.
The only viable solution, in the Volcker view, is to break up the giants. JPMorgan Chase would have to give up the trading operations acquired from Bear Stearns. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch would go back to being separate companies. Goldman Sachs could no longer be a bank holding company. It’s a tall order, and to achieve it Congress would have to enact a modern-day version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which mandated separation.
Glass-Steagall was watered down over the years and finally revoked in 1999. In the Volcker resurrection, commercial banks would take deposits, manage the nation’s payments system, make standard loans and even trade securities for their customers — just not for themselves. The government, in return, would rescue banks that fail.
On the other side of the wall, investment houses would be free to buy and sell securities for their own accounts, borrowing to leverage these trades and thus multiplying the profits, and the risks.
Being separated from banks, the investment houses would no longer have access to federally insured deposits to finance this trading. If one failed, the government would supervise an orderly liquidation. None would be too big to fail — a designation that could arise for a handful of institutions under the administration’s proposal.
“People say I’m old-fashioned and banks can no longer be separated from nonbank activity,” Mr. Volcker said, acknowledging criticism that he is nostalgic for an earlier era. “That argument,” he added ruefully, “brought us to where we are today.”
He may not be alone in his proposal, but he is nearly so. Most economists and policy makers argue that a global economy requires that America have big financial institutions to compete against others in Europe and Asia. An administration spokesman says the Obama proposal for reform would result in financial institutions that could fail without damaging the system.
Still, a handful side with Mr. Volcker, among them Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics at Columbia and a former official in the Clinton administration. “We would have a cleaner, safer banking system,” Mr. Stiglitz said, adding that while he endorses Mr. Volcker’s proposal, the former Fed chairman is nevertheless embarked on a quixotic journey.
Alan Greenspan, the only other former Fed chairman still living, favored the repeal of Glass-Steagall a decade ago and, unlike Mr. Volcker, would not bring it back now. He declined to be interviewed for this article, but in response to e-mailed questions he cited two recent public statements in which he suggested that the nation’s largest financial institutions become smaller, so that none would be too big to fail, requiring a federal rescue.
Taking issue implicitly with the Volcker proposal to split commercial and investment banking, he has said: “No form of economic organization can fully contain bouts of destructive speculative euphoria.”
For his part, Mr. Volcker is careful to explain that he supports 80 percent of the administration’s detailed plan for financial regulation, including much higher capital requirements and “guidelines” on pay. Wall Street compensation, he said in a recent television interview, “has gotten grotesquely large.”
Before the credit crisis, the big institutions earned most of their profits from proprietary trading, and those profits led to giant bonuses. Mr. Volcker argues that splitting commercial and investment banking would put a damper on both pay and risky trading practices.
His disagreement with the Obama people on whether to restore some version of Glass-Steagall appears to have contributed to published reports that his influence in the administration is fading and that he is rarely if ever in the small Washington office assigned to him.
He operates from his own offices in New York, communicating with administration officials and other members of the advisory board mainly by telephone. (He does not use e-mail, although his support staff does.) He travels infrequently to Washington, he says, and when he does, the visits are too short to bother with the office. The advisory board has been asked to study, amid other issues, the tax law on corporate profits earned overseas, hardly a headline concern.So Mr. Volcker scoffs at the reports that he is losing clout. “I did not have influence to start with,” he said.
NYTIMES - October 21, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
The legal battle between indigenous communities in Ecuador and oil giant Chevron is a fight sixteen years in the making. This unprecedented lawsuit holds Chevron accountable for the clean-up of the damages it has done to the once pristine Amazonian rainforest and the people who call it home. Dubbed the 'Amazon Chernobyl', the land inhabited by indigenous communities for generations has been left contaminated beyond imagination.
With all the evidence pointing to Chevron's guilt, a judgment of potentially $27 billion was expected to be handed down against the company as early as next month in Ecuador.
Chevron - one of the wealthiest corporations in world history - has already said that it will refuse to pay, requiring U.S. courts to enforce any potential fine. Chevron's legal strategy before a U.S. court would almost certainly be centered on convincing the court that the company did not receive a fair trial in Ecuador; thus, Chevron has a strong incentive to build a case now against the Ecuadorian court.
This "evidence" magically emerged last week when the oil giant took dirty measures to avoid cleaning up its mess. Chevron appears to have resorted to its own Nixon-style sting operation in an attempt to delay and corrupt trial proceedings by releasing grainy online videos trying to implicate the judge presiding over the trial in a $3 billion bribery scheme.
Chevron's attempt at smoke and mirrors would be laughable if the results were not so serious. While asserting that no impropriety occurred, hoping to avert any further effort by Chevron to delay or de-legitimize a ruling, the judge recused himself from the case last week.
This "bribery plot" is just the latest in a string of underhanded - and potentially illegal - attempts by Chevron to derail the case and distract from the fact of Chevron's obvious guilt. The timing is also suspicious given this week's release of the groundbreaking and critically-acclaimed documentary film about the case, CRUDE: the real price of oil.
* See "CRUDE: The Real Price of Oil" at a movie theater near you!
* Visit the ChevronToxico website for action steps to take right now!
* Join Global Exchange on a Reality Tour to Ecuador in November!
* Attend the West Coast Convergence for Climate Justice & Action to learn more!
Thank you, as always, for your work on behalf of peace & justice,
Antonia Juhasz, Director, The Chevron Program, Global Exchange
Global Exchange is an international human rights group that relies on its members - tens of thousands of people like you - to work with us to create social, political and environmental justice.
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Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Ben Bernanke's Bad Memory
By Dean Baker
To combat the financial crisis set off by the collapse of the housing bubble, the Federal Reserve Board has lent out more than $2 trillion through various special lending facilities. While the Fed discloses aggregate information on the loans made through each of the facilities, it will not disclose how much money it lent to specific banks or under what terms. By contrast, the Treasury puts this information about its $700 billion TARP bailout up on its website.
Partly in response to this huge increase in the Fed's power (its secret lending is equal to two-thirds of the federal budget), more than 270 representatives in Congress have co-sponsored a bill that would have the Government Accountability Office audit the Fed. In principle, this audit would examine the Fed's loans and report back to the relevant congressional committees, which could decide to make this information public.
Most people might consider it perfectly reasonable to have Congress's auditing arm review what the Fed has done with $2 trillion of the taxpayer's money to ensure that everything is proper. After all, we wouldn't let other government agencies spend one millionth of this amount ($2 million) without some sort of record that could be verified.
However, the Fed and its chairman Ben Bernanke do not see it this way. Mr. Bernanke warned Congress last month that such an audit could jeopardize the Fed's independence, which in turn: "could raise fears about future inflation, leading to higher long-term interest rates and reduced economic and financial stability."
Okay, Ben Bernanke warned Congress that if the Fed had less independence, it could lead to "reduced economic and financial stability." We have just been through a year in which the "Great Depression" was a more frequent topic of conversations that the Superbowl, World Series, and Oscars combined. In fact, Mr. Bernanke is given credit for preventing another Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office is now projecting that unemployment will average in the double digits through 2010 and it will not be until 2014 that the unemployment rate falls back to its normal level.
Did Mr. Bernanke forget about the current state of the economy and the financial collapse that he was frantically trying to head off when he warned Congress that if the Fed were less independent, it could lead to "reduced economic and financial stability"? After all, how do you get less economic and financial stability than the Great Depression?
This is not the first time when Ben Bernanke's memory appears to have failed him when we was addressing Congress about an important policy issue. Last September, when he was telling Congress that the economy would collapse if it did not approve the $700 billion TARP bailout, he warned that the commercial paper market was shutting down.
This was hugely important because most major companies rely on selling commercial paper to meet their payrolls and pay other routine bills. If they could not sell commercial paper, then millions of people would soon be laid off and the economy would literally collapse.
What Mr. Bernanke apparently forgot to tell Congress back then is that the Fed has the authority to directly buy commercial paper from financial and non-financial companies. In other words, the Fed has the power to prevent the sort of economic collapse that Bernanke warned would happen if Congress did not quickly approve the TARP. In fact, Bernanke announced that the Fed would create a special lending facility to buy commercial paper the weekend after Congress voted to approve the TARP.
Mr. Bernanke has taken extraordinary measures in the last year that have been successful in preventing a much worse downturn. Nonetheless, Congress should not forget that it was incredible mismanagement by Bernanke and his predecessor Alan Greenspan that brought about this disaster in the first place. If Mr. Bernanke is approved for another term, as seems likely, Congress should not be hesitant to use more oversight than it did in past years. And it certainly should not let the Fed send $2 trillion out the door without a verifiable paper trail.
Given the track record for Mr. Bernanke's version of bank independence, it is hard to imagine that greater congressional oversight would lead to worse outcomes.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Rally Against Wall Street's Health Care Takeover
by Wendell Potter
Saturday, August 29 I had the good fortune to speak at a community rally for health care reform in a city park in downtown Portland, Oregon. It was a broad-based and diverse group with many signs and placards supporting the 'public option' being debated by Congress, and others calling for 'single payer' reform like that working effectively in other countries such as Canada. Here is what I said:
I would like to begin by apologizing to all of you for the role I played 15 years ago in cheating you out of a reformed health care system. Had it not been for greedy insurance companies and other special interests, and their army of lobbyists and spin-doctors like I used to be, we wouldn't be here today.
I'm ashamed that I let myself get caught up in deceitful and dishonest PR campaigns that worked so well, hundreds of thousands of our citizens have died, and millions of others have lost their homes and been forced into bankruptcy, so that a very few corporate executives and their Wall Street masters could become obscenely rich.
Read the rest of Wendell Potter's speech here
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
It sounds like the plot for the latest summer horror movie. Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been allowed a third term as president, had run and had won or stolen it, and that we were all now living (and dying) through it. With the Democrats in control of Congress but Bush still in the Oval Office, the media would certainly be talking endlessly about a mandate for bipartisanship and the importance of taking into account the concerns of Republicans. Can't you just picture it?
I picture this demonic president still swearing he doesn't torture, still insisting that he wants to close Guantánamo, but assuring his subordinates that the commander-in-chief has the power to torture "if needed," and maintaining a prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that makes Guantánamo look like summer camp. I can imagine him continuing to keep secret his warrantless spying programs while protecting the corporations and government officials involved.
If Bush were in his third term, we would already have seen him propose, yet again, the largest military budget in the history of the world. We might well have seen him pretend he was including war funding in the standard budget, and then claim that one final supplemental war budget was still needed, immediately after which he would surely announce that yet another war supplemental bill would be needed down the road. And of course, he would have held onto his secretary of defense from his second term, Robert Gates, to run the Pentagon, keep our ongoing wars rolling along, and oversee the better part of our public budget.
Bush would undoubtedly be following through on the agreement he signed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for all US troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 (except where he chose not to follow through). His generals would, in the meantime, be leaking word that the United States never intended to actually leave. He'd surely be maintaining current levels of troops in Iraq, while sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and talking about a new "surge" there. He'd probably also be escalating the campaign he launched late in his second term to use drone aircraft to illegally and repeatedly strike into Pakistan's tribal borderlands with Afghanistan.
If Bush were still "the decider" he'd be employing mercenaries like Blackwater and propagandists like the Rendon Group and he might even be expanding the number of private security contractors in Afghanistan. In fact, the whole executive branch would be packed with disreputable corporate executive types. You'd have somebody like John ("May I torture this one some more, please?") Rizzo still serving , at least for a while, as general counsel at the CIA. The White House and Justice Department would be crawling with corporate cronies, people like John Brennan, Greg Craig, James Jones, and Eric Holder. Most of the top prosecutors hired at the Department of Justice for political purposes would still be on the job. And political prisoners, like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and former top Democratic donor Paul Minor would still be abandoned to their fate.
In addition, the bank bailouts Bush and his economic team initiated in his second term would still be rolling along--with a similar crowd of people running the show. Ben Bernanke, for instance, would certainly have been reappointed to run the Fed. And Bush's third term would have guaranteed that there would be none of the monkeying around with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Democrats proposed or promised in their losing presidential campaign. At this point in Bush's third term, no significant new effort would have begun to restore Katrina-decimated New Orleans either.
If the Democrats in Congress attempted to pass any set of needed reforms like, to take an example, new healthcare legislation, Bush, the third-termer, would have held secret meetings in the White House with insurance and drug company executives to devise a means to turn such proposals to their advantage. And he would have refused to release the visitor logs so that the American public would have no way of knowing just whom he'd been talking to.
During Bush's second term, some of the lowest-ranking torturers from Abu Ghraib were prosecuted as bad apples, while those officials responsible for the policies that led to Abu Ghraib remained untouched. If the public continued to push for justice for torturers during the early months of Bush's third term, he would certainly have gone with another "bad apple" approach, perhaps targeting only low-ranking CIA interrogators and CIA contractors for prosecution. Bush would undoubtedly have decreed that any higher-ups would not be touched, that we should now be looking forward, not backward. And he would thereby have cemented in place the power of presidents to grant immunity for crimes they themselves authorized.
If Bush were in his third term, some of his first and second term secrets might, by now, have been forced out into the open by lawsuits, but what Americans actually read wouldn't be significantly worse than what we'd already known. What documents saw the light of day would surely have had large portions of their pages redacted, and the vast bulk of documentation that might prove threatening would remain hidden from the public eye. Bush's lawyers would be fighting in court, with ever grander claims of executive power, to keep his wrongdoing out of sight.
Now, here's the funny part. This dark fantasy of a third Bush term is also an accurate portrait of Obama's first term to date. In following Bush, Obama was given the opportunity either to restore the rule of law and the balance of powers or to firmly establish in place what were otherwise aberrant abuses of power. Thus far, President Obama has, in all the areas mentioned above, chosen the latter course. Everything described, from the continuation of crimes to the efforts to hide them away, from the corruption of corporate power to the assertion of the executive power to legislate, is Obama's presidency in its first seven months.
Which doesn't mean there aren't differences in the two moments. For one thing, Democrats have now joined Republicans in approving expanded presidential powers and even--in the case of wars, military strikes, lawless detention and rendition, warrantless spying, and the obstruction of justice--presidential crimes. In addition, in the new Democratic era of goodwill, peace and justice movements have been strikingly defunded and, in some cases, even shut down. Many progressive groups now, in fact, take their signals from the president and his team, rather than bringing the public's demands to his doorstep.
If we really were in Bush's third term, people would be far more active and outraged. There would already be a major push to really end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. Undoubtedly, the Democrats still wouldn't impeach Bush, especially since they'd be able to vote him out before his fourth term, and surely four more years of him wouldn't make all that much difference.
About David SwansonDavid Swanson is the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (Seven Stories Press, 2009). He holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia and served as press secretary for Kucinich for President in 2004. more...
Copyright 2009 The Nation
Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
ZAKARIA: Now for my "What in the World" segment.
Here's what got my attention this week: a somewhat shocking report from British Petroleum. Have you switched all your bulbs to compact fluorescents? Are you thinking of buying a new hybrid car? Are you careful to recycle every last scrap of paper off your desk?
Good for you, you're doing your part but I'm sorry to tell you, you may be wasting your time.
Listen to this: for the sixth year in a row, coal consumption has grown. King coal is the fuel that is driving global warming. It is the earth's biggest polluter. Many scientists tell us that it is the fastest growing, dirtiest fuel in the world. And the country driving most of the growth -- China.
That's what a fascinating new report from the energy giant BP says. Last year, China burned more than double the amount of coal that the world's second biggest user did, the United States. And while U.S. usage went down a little last year and Spain cut its usage by more than a quarter, China actually burned 7 percent more coal in 2008 than it did in 2007. That uptick in China was responsible for an extra 366 million tons of emissions into the atmosphere.
The root of the problem is that China's addictive coal habit is precisely what is driving its extraordinary growth. Coal is what fires many of the plants that make the sneakers and the steel and the silicon chips which China then sells to the rest of the world at a profit. And there's no sign they're slowing down.
An MIT study says that China builds new coal-fired powered plants at the rate of two each week. And "Science Magazine" found that if China keeps on this path, by 2030 they will be emitting as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the entire world does today.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
I’m not so sure Obama was sincere during the campaign about being for progressive causes including single payer, since he’s done 180s on many campaign promises – need I list them?
Beginning with his appt. of Rahm E. the neoliberal free market believer and AIPAC supporter, onto his Wall St. appointments to Treasury through supporting Cheney’s secrecy and coverup of torture, to confabing with Pharma, I think he is staunchly in the corporatist neoliberal column – another Bill Clinton. There’s not even fire in his belly for a public option.
The only answer for all this corporatist corruption is public financing of campaigns and strong lobbying reform. Also, it would be nice to have a vibrant progressive third party that rejects corporatism and currying favor (and needless to say bags of cash) with/from the corporacratic plutocracy that both parties are essentially wings of.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Income Inequality Is At An All-Time High: STUDY
Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression, according to a recently updated paper by University of California, Berkeley Professor Emmanuel Saez. The paper, which covers data through 2007, points to a staggering, unprecedented disparity in American incomes. On his blog, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the numbers "truly amazing."
Though income inequality has been growing for some time, the paper paints a stark, disturbing portrait of wealth distribution in America. Saez calculates that in 2007 the top .01 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000.
As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that's "higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the 'roaring" 1920s.'"
Beginning in the economic expansion of the early 1990s, Saez argues, the economy began to favor the top tiers American earners, but much of the country missed was left behind. "The top 1 percent incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the period 1993-2007," Saes writes.
Despite a rising stock market, largely growing employment and a historic housing boom things were not nearly so rosy for the rest of U.S. workers. This trend, according to Saez, only accelerated during the George W. Bush's tenure as President:
"...while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew at a solid pace of 2.7 percent per year from 1993-2000, these incomes grew only 1.3 percent per year from 2002-2007. As a result, in the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth."
My comments there (and others'):
Welcome to the New Gilded Age or alternatively, if you like pulp fiction, The Banana Republic of America! The plutocracy finally got what it's wanted since Ronnie, turbocharged by Bush's corruption of democratic safeguards against greed, corruption, war profiteering, and disdain for the commons (including the health of our "same boat" Spaceship Earth and the common good (or Justice and Love).
Posted 04:04 PM on 08/16/2009
The Republican party is the shock troops of the plutocracy. Their only agenda is the transfer of wealth to the wealthy. They oppose Health Reform because it is a liberal social proram that will secure the loyalty of a new generation of Americans to the Democratic party. Their conservative "values" are a hoax. Their fiscal probity is a convenient pose now that they are out of power. The truth is that they have been waging a counter-revolution since the New Deal. They came close to taking over during the Depression. (Roosevelt didn't save us from Communism; he saved us from fascism).
Since the 1930's the ruling class has waged war from the top down. Looking at the graph above they had to wait a long time, but the economic dislocations that followed the Vietnam War created the opportunity to implement their strategy to concentrate wealth at the top. From 1975 on the real income of EVERYONE but the top one percent has fallen. Household incomes grew briefly from having two earners, but that stalled out by the early 90's. Only during the Clinton years did this trend reverse, which is why they did everything in their power to get him out of office.
Posted 08:49 PM on 08/16/2009
Clinton wasn't FDR though. He was more conservative than you think.
Also, Clinton presided over the dot com bubble which burst just as GWB got into office. The economy was good back then because it was inflated.
Posted 06:15 PM on 08/17/2009
You're right. Clinton was a DLC neoliberal corporatist, which is what I believe Obama to be, unfortunately.
Friday, August 14, 2009
By Chris Hedges
The American empire has not altered under Barack Obama. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury to enrich the corporate elite as rapaciously. It will not give us universal health care, abolish the Bush secrecy laws, end torture or “extraordinary rendition,” restore habeas corpus or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of citizens. It will not push through significant environmental reform, regulate Wall Street or end our relationship with private contractors that provide mercenary armies to fight our imperial wars and produce useless and costly weapons systems.
The sad reality is that all the well-meaning groups and individuals who challenge our permanent war economy and the doctrine of pre-emptive war, who care about sustainable energy, fight for civil liberties and want corporate malfeasance to end, were once again suckered by the Democratic Party. They were had. It is not a new story. The Democrats have been doing this to us since Bill Clinton. It is the same old merry-go-round, only with Obama branding. And if we have not learned by now that the system is broken, that as citizens we do not matter to our political elite, that we live in a corporate state where our welfare and our interests are irrelevant, we are in serious trouble. Our last hope is to step outside of the two-party system and build movements that defy the Democrats and the Republicans. If we fail to do this we will continue to undergo a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion that will end in feudalism.
We owe Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney  and the Green Party an apology. They were right. If a few million of us had had the temerity to stand behind our ideals rather than our illusions and the empty slogans peddled by the Obama campaign we would have a platform. We forgot that social reform never comes from accommodating the power structure but from frightening it. The Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists who battled for women’s rights, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement knew that the question was not how do we get good people to rule—those attracted to power tend to be venal mediocrities—but how do we limit the damage the powerful do to us. These mass movements were the engines for social reform, the correctives to our democracy and the true protectors of the rights of citizens. We have surrendered this power. It is vital to reclaim it. Where is the foreclosure movement? Where is the robust universal health care or anti-war movement? Where is the militant movement for sustainable energy?
“Something is broken,” Nader said when I reached him at his family home in Connecticut. “We are not at the Bangladesh level in terms of passivity, but we are getting there. No one sees anything changing. There is no new political party to give people a choice. The progressive forces have no hammer. When they abandoned our campaign they told the Democrats we have nowhere to go and will take whatever you give us. The Democrats are under no heat in the electoral arena from the left.
“There comes a point when the public imbibes the ultimatum of the plutocracy,” Nader said when asked about public apathy. “They have bought into the belief that if it protests it will be brutalized by the police. If they have Muslim names they will be subjected to Patriot Act treatment. This has scared the hell out of the underclass. They will be called terrorists.
“This is the third television generation,” Nader said. “They have grown up watching screens. They have not gone to rallies. Those are history now. They hear their parents and grandparents talk about marches and rallies. They have little toys and gizmos that they hold in their hands. They have no idea of any public protest or activity. It is a tapestry of passivity.
“They have been broken,” Nader said of the working class. “How many times have their employers threatened them with going abroad? How many times have they threatened the workers with outsourcing? The polls on job insecurity are record-high by those who have employment. And the liberal intelligentsia have failed them. They [the intellectuals] have bought into carping and making lecture fees as the senior fellow at the institute of so-and-so. Look at the top 50 intelligentsiaE2not one of them supported our campaign, not one of them has urged for street action and marches.”
Our task is to build movements that can act as a counterweight to the corporate rape of America. We must opt out of the mainstream. We must articulate and stand behind a viable and uncompromising socialism, one that is firmly and unequivocally on the side of working men and women. We must give up the self-delusion that we can influence the power elite from the inside. We must become as militant as those who are seeking our enslavement. If we remain passive as we undergo the largest transference of wealth upward in American history, our open society will die. The working class is being plunged into desperation that will soon rival the misery endured by the working class in China and India. And the Democratic Party, including Obama, is a willing accomplice.
“Obama is squandering his positive response around the world,” Nader said. “In terms of foreign and military policy it is a distinct continuity with Bush. Iraq, Afghanistan, the militarization of foreign policy, the continued expansion of the Pentagon budget and pursuing more globalized trade agreements are the same.”
This is an assessment that neoconservatives now gleefully share. Eliot A. Cohen, writing in The Wall Street Journal, made the same pronouncement.
“Mostly, though, the underlying structure of the policy remains the same,” Cohen wrote  in an Aug. 2 opinion piece titled “What’s Different About the Obama Foreign Policy.” “Nor should this surprise us: The United States has interests dictated by its physical location, its economy, its alliances, and above all, its values. Naive realists, a large tribe, fail to understand that ideals will inevitably guide American foreign policy, even if they do not always determine it. Moreover, because the Obama foreign and defense policy senior team consists of centrist experts from the Democratic Party, it is unlikely to make radically different judgments about the world, and about American interests in it, than its predecessors.”
Nader said that Obama should gradually steer the country away from imperial and corporate tyranny.
“You don’t just put out policy statements of congeniality but statements of gradual redirection,” Nader said. “You incorporate in that statement not just demilitarization, not just ascension of smart diplomacy, but the enlargement of the U.S. as a humanitarian superpower, and cut out these Soviet-era weapons systems and start rapid response for disaster like earthquakes and tsunamis. You expand infectious disease programs which the U.N. Developmental Commission says can be done for $50 billion a year in Third World countries on nutrition, minimal health care and minimal shelter.”
Obama has expanded the assistance to our class of Wall Street extortionists through subsidies, loan guarantees and backup declarations to banks such as Citigroup. His stimulus package does not address the crisis in our public works infrastructure; instead it doles out funds to Medicaid and unemployment compensation. There will be no huge public works program to remodel the country. The president refuses to acknowledge the obvious—we can no longer afford our empire.
“Obama could raise a call to come home, America, from the military budget abroad,” Nader suggested. “He could create a new constituency that does not exist because everything is so fragmented, scattered, haphazard and slapdash with the stimulus. He could get the local labor unions, the local Chambers of Commerce and the mayors=2 0to say the more we cut the military budget the more you get in terms of public works.”
“They [administration leaders] don’t see the distinction between public power and corporate power,” Nader said. “This is their time in history to reassert public values represented by workers, consumers, taxpayers and communities. They are creating a jobless recovery, the worst of the worst, with the clear specter of inflation on the horizon. We are heading for deep water.”
The massive borrowing acts as an anesthetic. It prevents us from facing the new limitations we must learn to cope with domestically and abroad. It allows us to live in the illusion that we are not in a state of irrevocable crisis, that our decline is not real and that catastrophe has been averted. But running the national debt can work only so long.
“No one can predict the future,” Nader added hopefully. “No one knows the variables. No one predicted the move on tobacco. No one predicted gay rights. No one predicted the Berkeley student rebellion. The students were supine. You never know what will light the fire. You have to keep the pressure on. I know only one thing for sure, the whole liberal-progressive constituency is going nowhere.”
Copyright © 2009 Truthdig, L.L.C.
The only thing I don't agree with is Chris Hedges's call for full commitment to socialism.
First, I don't think we could do it here, with such a conservative Southern right-wing population, and the scare word that is is.
Until campaign finance and lobbying reform it will be hard to get off the war ecomomy - the military/industrial complex (which includes the dinosaur oil & gas companies that were just listed has being in the top 10 for executive compensation - they have had a bonanza during the last 8 years, thanks to their cronies BushCo, I need not tell you, as they kept getting up to the tipping point of Global Heating.) That's one of the most depressing things - a lot of scientists think it's too late to stop Global Heating - we can only mitigate the worst efffects - I'll still be alive when the misery begins, I'm afraid.
Second, at this point, I support a mixed economy, private and public, with strong regulation of Wall St, and health, woker safety and wages portections, FAIR trade, not free trade, that outsources jobs, drives wages and working conditions down, and encourages illegal immigration, all to give CEOs millions in salaries and bonuses, support for unions, and so on, health care reform with at least a single payer option, and most importantly (and most improbably, because Congress has to cut its payday - public campaign funding for Federal elections and strong lobbying reform (despite SCOTUS's terrible decision equating speech with money.)
As far as getting people to organize, the mainstream media is so corporate controlled, consciously or unconsciously, that our only hope is getting people off their asses through internet and messaging communication, if that can be done).
People have to raise their consciousness, too.
P.S. As you probably know, since November, when he appointed Robert Rubin acolytes Geithner and Summers to Treasury, I knew we had a neoliberal DLC pro-Wall St. free trader like Bill Clinton, and I was disappointed in Obama, and knew he'd not keep a lot of his progressive campaign promises.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Thursday July 30, 2009 08:31 EDT
Practicalities v. principles: the prime Beltway affliction
Thursday, July 30, 2009
We are in a progressive moment, a moment when the ground is shifting beneath our feet, and anything is possible. What we considered unimaginable about what could be said and hoped for a year ago is now possible. At a time like this, it is absolutely critical that we be as clear as we possibly can be about what it is that we want because we might just get it.
So the stakes are high.
I usually talk about the bailout in speeches these days. We all need to understand it because it is a robbery in progress, the greatest heist in monetary history. But today I'd like to take a different approach: What if the bailout actually works, what if the financial sector is saved and the economy returns to the course it was on before the crisis struck? Is that what we want? And what would that world look like?
The answer is that it would look like Sarah Palin. Hear me out, this is not a joke. I don't think we have given sufficient consideration to the meaning of the Palin moment. Think about it: Sarah Palin stepped onto the world stage as Vice Presidential candidate on August 29 at a McCain campaign rally, to much fanfare. Exactly two weeks later, on September 14, Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering the global financial meltdown.
So in a way, Palin was the last clear expression of capitalism-as-usual before everything went south. That's quite helpful because she showed us-in that plainspoken, down-homey way of hers-the trajectory the U.S. economy was on before its current meltdown. By offering us this glimpse of a future, one narrowly avoided, Palin provides us with an opportunity to ask a core question: Do we want to go there? Do we want to save that pre-crisis system, get it back to where it was last September? Or do we want to use this crisis, and the electoral mandate for serious change delivered by the last election, to radically transform that system? We need to get clear on our answer now because we haven't had the potent combination of a serious crisis and a clear progressive democratic mandate for change since the 1930s. We use this opportunity, or we lose it.
So what was Sarah Palin telling us about capitalism-as-usual before she was so rudely interrupted by the meltdown? Let's first recall that before she came along, the U.S. public, at long last, was starting to come to grips with the urgency of the climate crisis, with the fact that our economic activity is at war with the planet, that radical change is needed immediately. We were actually having that conversation: Polar bears were on the cover of Newsweek magazine. And then in walked Sarah Palin. The core of her message was this: Those environmentalists, those liberals, those do-gooders are all wrong. You don't have to change anything. You don't have to rethink anything. Keep driving your gas-guzzling car, keep going to Wal-Mart and shop all you want. The reason for that is a magical place called Alaska. Just come up here and take all you want. "Americans," she said at the Republican National Convention, "we need to produce more of our own oil and gas. Take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska, we've got lots of both."
And the crowd at the convention responded by chanting and chanting: "Drill, baby, drill."
Watching that scene on television, with that weird creepy mixture of sex and oil and jingoism, I remember thinking: "Wow, the RNC has turned into a rally in favor of screwing Planet Earth." Literally.
But what Palin was saying is what is built into the very DNA of capitalism: the idea that the world has no limits. She was saying that there is no such thing as consequences, or real-world deficits. Because there will always be another frontier, another Alaska, another bubble. Just move on and discover it. Tomorrow will never come.
This is the most comforting and dangerous lie that there is: the lie that perpetual, unending growth is possible on our finite planet. And we have to remember that this message was incredibly popular in those first two weeks, before Lehman collapsed. Despite Bush's record, Palin and McCain were pulling ahead. And if it weren't for the financial crisis, and for the fact that Obama started connecting with working class voters by putting deregulation and trickle-down economics on trial, they might have actually won.
The President tells us he wants to look forward, not backwards. But in order to confront the lie of perpetual growth and limitless abundance that is at the center of both the ecological and financial crises, we have to look backwards. And we have to look way backwards, not just to the past eight years of Bush and Cheney, but to the very founding of this country, to the whole idea of the settler state.
Modern capitalism was born with the so-called discovery of the Americas. It was the pillage of the incredible natural resources of the Americas that generated the excess capital that made the Industrial Revolution possible. Early explorers spoke of this land as a New Jerusalem, a land of such bottomless abundance, there for the taking, so vast that the pillage would never have to end. This mythology is in our biblical stories-of floods and fresh starts, of raptures and rescues-and it is at the center of the American Dream of constant reinvention. What this myth tells us is that we don't have to live with our pasts, with the consequences of our actions. We can always escape, start over.
These stories were always dangerous, of course, to the people who were already living on the "discovered" lands, to the people who worked them through forced labor. But now the planet itself is telling us that we cannot afford these stories of endless new beginnings anymore. That is why it is so significant that at the very moment when some kind of human survival instinct kicked in, and we seemed finally to be coming to grips with the Earth's natural limits, along came Palin, the new and shiny incarnation of the colonial frontierswoman, saying: Come on up to Alaska. There is always more. Don't think, just take.
This is not about Sarah Palin. It's about the meaning of that myth of constant "discovery," and what it tells us about the economic system that they're spending trillions of dollars to save. What it tells us is that capitalism, left to its own devices, will push us past the point from which the climate can recover. And capitalism will avoid a serious accounting-whether of its financial debts or its ecological debts-at all costs. Because there's always more. A new quick fix. A new frontier.
That message was selling, as it always does. It was only when the stock market crashed that people said, "Maybe Sarah Palin isn't a great idea this time around. Let's go with the smart guy to ride out the crisis."
I almost feel like we've been given a last chance, some kind of a reprieve. I try not to be apocalyptic, but the global warming science I read is scary. This economic crisis, as awful as it is, pulled us back from that ecological precipice that we were about to drive over with Sarah Palin and gave us a tiny bit of time and space to change course. And I think it's significant that when the crisis hit, there was almost a sense of relief, as if people knew they were living beyond their means and had gotten caught. We suddenly had permission to do things together other than shop, and that spoke to something deep.
But we are not free from the myth. The willful blindness to consequences that Sarah Palin represents so well is embedded in the way Washington is responding to the financial crisis. There is just an absolute refusal to look at how bad it is. Washington would prefer to throw trillions of dollars into a black hole rather than find out how deep the hole actually is. That's how willful the desire is not to know.
And we see lots of other signs of the old logic returning. Wall Street salaries are almost back to 2007 levels. There's a certain kind of electricity in the claims that the stock market is rebounding. "Can we stop feeling guilty yet?" you can practically hear the cable commentators asking. "Is the bubble back yet?"
And they may well be right. This crisis isn't going to kill capitalism or even change it substantively. Without huge popular pressure for structural reform, the crisis will prove to have been nothing more than a very wrenching adjustment. The result will be even greater inequality than before the crisis. Because the millions of people losing their jobs and their homes aren't all going to be getting them back, not by a long shot. And manufacturing capacity is very difficult to rebuild once it's auctioned off.
It's appropriate that we call this a "bailout." Financial markets are being bailed out to keep the ship of finance capitalism from sinking, but what is being scooped out is not water. It's people. It's people who are being thrown overboard in the name of "stabilization." The result will be a vessel that is leaner and meaner. Much meaner. Because great inequality-the super rich living side by side with the economically desperate-requires a hardening of the hearts. We need to believe ourselves superior to those who are excluded in order to get through the day. So this is the system that is being saved: the same old one, only meaner.
And the question that we face is: Should our job be to bail out this ship, the biggest pirate ship that ever was, or to sink it and replace it with a sturdier vessel, one with space for everyone? One that doesn't require these ritual purges, during which we throw our friends and our neighbors overboard to save the people in first class. One that understands that the Earth doesn't have the capacity for all of us to live better and better.
But it does have the capacity, as Bolivian President Evo Morales said recently at the U.N., "for all of us to live well."
Because make no mistake: Capitalism will be back. And the same message will return, though there may be someone new selling that message: You don't need to change. Keep consuming all you want. There's plenty more. Drill, baby, drill. Maybe there will be some technological fix that will make all our problems disappear.
And that is why we need to be absolutely clear right now.
Capitalism can survive this crisis. But the world can't survive another capitalist comeback.