Quote of the day

Serge Halimi, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, wrote:

Some revelations come as little surprise. It’s not really news that some politicians love money and like to spend time with those who have lots of it. Or that they sometimes behave like a caste that is above the law. Or that the tax system favours the affluent, and that the free circulation of capital enables them to stash their cash in tax havens.

The disclosure of individual transgressions should lead to scrutiny of the system that created them. But in recent decades, the world has been changing at such a pace that it has outstripped our analytical capacity. With each new event — the fall of the Berlin Wall, the emergence of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), technological advances, financial crises, Arab revolutions, European decline — experts have fallen over themselves to announce the end of history or the birth of a new world order.

Beyond these premature birth and death notices, three main, more or less universal, tendencies have emerged which warrant initial exploration: the marked rise in social inequality, the disintegration of political democracy and the decline of national sovereignty. Every new scandal is like a pustule on a sickly body: it allows us to see each element of this trio re-emerge separately and operate together. The overall situation could be summed up thus: governments allow their political systems to drift towards oligarchy because they are so dependent on the mediation of an affluent minority (who invest, speculate, hire, fire and lend). If governments balk at this abandonment of the popular mandate, international pressure from concerted financial interest ensures they topple.

Oligarchy, Halimi suggests, is scarcely incompatible with a modern democracy. Both can coexist within a social system. This point, the uncomplicated compatibility of oligarchy and democracy, has slowly moved to the forefront since December, 1991, the moment at which Bush the Elder’s New World Order emerged in its purest form. Our modern oligarchs rule indirectly, by capturing a political elite which, although elected by the demos, depends on the former for resources and guidance. The oligarchs thus rule because of the political power generated by their enormous wealth.

The United States, of course, provides a special case of this general condition. Today it is the only global empire, an unmatched military colossus and a country which sits beyond the rule of law, according to its self-understanding. It also remains exceptionally wealthy and provides the world with its commonly used reserve currency. Sheldon Wolin depicted it as having an inverted totalitarian system, that is, as an ‘as if’ democracy embedded within an empire and a stagnant economy. Democracy in America today produces results that mostly affirm oligarchic demands, a system of markets strongly distorted by finance capital and the prerogative powers of the security-surveillance apparatus. A political commitment to economic austerity and massive wealth inequality, to the imprisonment of the poor as a means of social control and to imperial domination at home and abroad makes the United States a leader among the many countries committed to this kind of democracy. Democratic elections remain in effect. They are, however, ineffective mechanisms for holding the powerful accountable. They are, instead, noisy spectacles which generate a weak kind of political legitimacy for the governed and a politically effective legitimacy for the social system as a whole. This system legitimating originates in the common realization that little to nothing can be done to successfully resist the irresistible force which is society.

Americans ought to consider these points before they vote, whenever they listen to their political leaders and when they wonder how they can make it through the year.

Consider Corn

You don’t, do you. Well, you should because corn is a component of ethanol and meat production. People eat it too. Corn prices have risen a bit over the last month because the drought of 2012 has punished America’s corn producing states. Thus:

A wise person will adjust her personal spending habits to account for this problem.

The London Disease

The phrase just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it! One even expects it to make sense. What, then, is the London Disease? Well,

Which brings us to an issue that is fast troubling global financial regulators: the so-called ‘London disease’. It has not gone unnoticed that many of the financial scandals in recent years have a Square Mile connection. Never mind Libor, it was the London offices of AIG, Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff that helped destroy them. The JP Morgan and UBS rogue traders who lost billions were both London based.

The UK is also arguably the centre of the offshore world. It is one of the biggest private bank centres and Britain’s non-domicile tax rules allow the global super-rich to legally avoid taxes on their overseas income while residing here. In addition, many of the UK’s overseas territories and crown dependencies such as Jersey, Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands are major offshore centres. This perhaps explains why the British government, for all its rhetoric, has failed to clamp down on the shadow financial system.

What is the “offshore world”? It is a place that mostly lacks legal and political accountability, where the oligarchy parks its money, where loyalty can be bought. The London Disease exists because casino capitalism exists, because The City is a place where the world’s oligarchs like to do business and because the British political system is intrinsically corrupt. The London Disease thus refers to a place where the morbidity of contemporary capitalism manifests itself with clarity. Wall Street is also such a place. Both have more in common with the “offshore world” than they do with Great Britain and the United States. Their autonomy is a political catastrophe without an identifiable conclusion.

The Unholy Alliance wastes vast sums of money

As early reports have made plain, JPMorgan Chase Bank has blundered its way to what is already a multibillion dollar loss. Once again, a Big Finance bank made witless bets. And, as we also know, Washington failed to temper the Great Casino during the Great Recession. Indeed, America’s political elite took bankster money and acted in the interests of the financial elite and America’s oligarchs. It has thus been business as usual for the most predatory banks, a general situation that makes Washington’s political failures with respect to Big Finance both notorious and tragic for the “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) in America and around the world.

There are silver linings in this story, however. Yves Smith pointed to one of them:

The real upside is that this may be the first real dent to [JPMorgan Chase's CEO Jamie] Dimon’s image. The firm has gotten off scot free for dubious tactics during the Lehman and MF Global failures, and Dimon has taken to bullying central bankers and regulators (I’ve heard of incidents beyond the press reports of him browbeating Bernanke and later his Canadian analogue, Mark Carney). Dimon’s hyperaggression may simply by apparent success stoking an already overly large ego, or it may be the classic “the best defense is a good offense” strategy, of dissuading overly close scrutiny of JP Morgan’s health and practices. We’ll have a better basis for judging as the year progresses, since difficult trading markets will continue to test all the major dealers.

Sensible people always welcome the destruction of a personality cult when it surrounds a powerful person. Dimon would be no exception to this rule. Likewise, sensible people would welcome any event which diminishes further the aura of rational action which surrounds Big Finance. Wall Street may have rationalized tools but substantive rationality is not a virtue found therein. These institutions are predators, and their predation, based upon analytical mysticism, serves no useful and general purpose.

Americans should be so lucky if the Securities and Exchange Commission and Britain’s ‘private’ Financial Services Authority were to act rationally in this case. Unfortunately, it would be more realistic to expect Angels to solve our financial problems than it would be for Congress or Parliament to enact sensible legislation meant to rationalize America and Britain’s financial markets and institutions. This is a neoliberal world, after all. “There is no alternative,” as we were told.

Need a job? Lack a soul?

Accretive Health has a position for you. The New York Times reports:

Hospital patients waiting in the emergency room or convalescing after surgery could find themselves confronted by an unexpected visitor: a debt collector at bedside.

Mary A. Tolan, Accretive Health CEO

One of the nation’s largest medical debt-collection companies is under fire in Minnesota for having placed its employees in emergency rooms and other departments at two hospitals and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment, according to documents released Tuesday by the Minnesota attorney general. The documents say the company also used patient health records to wrangle for more money on overdue bills.

The company, Accretive Health, has contracts not only with the two hospitals cited in Minnesota but also with some of the largest hospital systems in the country, including Henry Ford Health System in Michigan and Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. Since January, it has faced a civil lawsuit filed by Attorney General Lori Swanson of Minnesota alleging that it violated state and federal debt-collection laws and patient privacy protections.

Shocking — that is, I find it shocking that Accretive’s morally dubious practices violate debt collection laws and privacy protections. These violations are contrary to the spirit of the times! I am sure that ALEC, with its deep and strong concern for protecting the rights of health care consumers to directly pay for their health care, will want to get these laws fixed as soon as possible.

The consequences of an asuterity politics

Quote of the day

Addressing the political situation which can be found in the world today — a situation defined by an epoch-marking economic crisis, by popular resistance to the austerity programs allegedly meant to overcome the crisis and by Barack Obama’s dedication to completing the neoconservative imperial political project — Mike Davis wrote:

In great upheavals, analogies fly like shrapnel. The electrifying protests of 2011—the on-going Arab spring, the ‘hot’ Iberian and Hellenic summers, the ‘occupied’ fall in the United States — inevitably have been compared to the anni mirabiles of 1848, 1905, 1968 and 1989. Certainly some fundamental things still apply and classic patterns repeat. Tyrants tremble, chains break and palaces are stormed. Streets become magical laboratories where citizens and comrades are created, and radical ideas acquire sudden telluric power. Iskra becomes Facebook. But will this new comet of protest persist in the winter sky or is it just a brief, dazzling meteor shower? As the fates of previous journées révolutionnaires warn us, spring is the shortest of seasons, especially when the communards fight in the name of a ‘different world’ for which they have no real blueprint or even idealized image.

But perhaps that will come later. For the moment, the survival of the new social movements — the occupiers, the indignados, the small European anti-capitalist parties and the Arab new left — demands that they sink deeper roots in mass resistance to the global economic catastrophe, which in turn presupposes — let’s be honest — that the current temper for ‘horizontality’ can eventually accommodate enough disciplined ‘verticality’ to debate and enact organizing strategies. It’s a frighteningly long road just to reach the starting points of earlier attempts to build a new world. But a new generation has at least bravely initiated the journey.

Solidarity and self-organization, as Davis notes, provide the antidote to the dead weight of the neoliberal past. A revolution may be defined as an attempt to begin the world anew, to demolish posterity’s monuments and to debunk its idols. Surprisingly, the world today appears to be, Davis suggests, on the cusp of making such an effort. Antisystemic social and political entities have appeared in many places. They have pushed tyrants from power, made a few Eurocrats nervous and forced some of America’s politicians to acknowledge popular distress. Davis goes on to locate one system-wide source of an antisystemic solidarity:

The campus rebellions of 1968 in Europe and the us were spiritually and politically fuelled by the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, guerrilla insurgencies in Latin America, the Cultural Revolution in China and the ghetto uprisings in the United States. Similarly the indignados of the last year have drawn primordial strength from the examples of Tunis and Cairo. (The several million children and grandchildren of Arab immigrants to southern Europe make this connection intimately vivid and militant.) As a result, passionate 20-year-olds now occupy squares on both shores of Braudel’s fundamental Mediterranean. In 1968, however, few of the white youth protesting in Europe (with the important exception of Northern Ireland) and the United States shared the existential realities of their counterparts in countries of the South. Even if deeply alienated, most could look forward to turning college degrees into affluent middle-class careers. Today, in contrast, many of the protesters in New York, Barcelona and Athens face prospects dramatically worse than those of their parents and closer to those of their counterparts in Casablanca and Alexandria. (Some of the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, if they had graduated ten years earlier, might have walked straight into $100,000 salaries at a hedge fund or investment bank. Today they work at Starbucks.)

Globally, young adult unemployment is at record levels, according to the ilo — between 25 and 50 per cent in most of the countries with youth-led protests. Moreover, in the North African crucible of the Arab revolution, a college degree is inversely related to likelihood of employment. In other countries as well, family investment in education, when incurred debt is considered, is paying negative dividends. At the same time, access to higher education has become more restricted, most dramatically in the us, uk and Chile.

Behold — a growing and youthful lumpenproletariat, a sometimes well-educated group with little to lose. Their history, much like the death of the American empire, has yet to made.

An Occupy Pittsburgh statement on Militarism

The Pittsburgh General Assembly passed this statement on 11.1.2011.

The public source for the Statement can be found here. I have included a copy below.

Read more of this post

Shit will hit the fan very soon

Eyes on the NYPD

David Lindorff, a veteran journalist addressing the significance of the Occupy Wall Street protest, rightly claims that:

Probably the biggest accomplishment of the Occupy Wall Street movement to date has not been the light these courageous and indomitable young activists have shined on the gangsters of Wall Street, as important as that has been. Rather it has been how they have exposed the police of the nation’s financial capital as the centurions of the ruling class, and not the gauzy “people’s heroes” that they have been posing as since some of their number, along with many more firefighters, nobly gave their lives trying to rescue people in the doomed World Trade Center towers on 9-11.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, a member of the establishment, did his light-shedding part in this excellent piece:

As O’Donnell reminds his viewers, gratuitous and illegal police violence is common in America. For some Americans, the police officers they face in their lives are little more than armed thugs, authorized by the state to abuse them, protected by the legal system in which they serve. Lindorff, knowing this and knowing that the police have had an aura of legitimacy since the 9.11 attacks, closes his article by pointing out that:

Even the corporate media, which for days had tried to pretend nothing was happening in Lower Manhattan, have finally been forced to report on the despicable police abuse of these brave kids.

The farcical mythology of police as heroes in blue is over.

Sad to say for those good cops who are just trying to protect and serve, the pigs in their midst have shown the true nature of NYPD policing, and unless we start seeing good cops coming out and denouncing the violent and un-Constitutional behavior of their thuggish colleagues and especially their even more thuggish supervisors, it will be hard going forward, at least for this reporter, not to laugh when someone next refers to cops collectively as “heroes.”

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