March 14, 2010

Reincarnation – A Poem

Filed under: Poetry — Russ @ 11:01 am


Life revives at the point of art’s rebirth,
Where we dream of painting the infinite.
Dreams are the language which mediates life,
Through life’s endless renewals we offer our dreams,
We pen and paint and sing this born pretense
To lend substance to what is endless air.
We dream of seeing what we are,
Of feeling it in our hands.
We invent the clay we need to sculpt
Ourselves into immortal forms, to populate the void.
The painting which mirrors the map of stars
Reflecting the image our souls have seen
Is the sacrament of our primal myths,
Though our efforts all sum to miniatures,
Scrimshaw scrawled on the fossils of our souls.
Our ambition demands the mirror-quest,
We search through our minds for the sheens we need,
The scene demands all perfections at once,
For the image of life to reflect what life is,
For the sum of the suns to shine on the waves,
Compiling an arch toward the solar key,
Rosetta stone of the night’s lost mystery,
Promising illumination at last, forever –
As the lines tremble and coincide,
We behold the bridge consummated.
We dream the eternal bridge, an eternal cycle crystallized.
Plato called thought a process of remembrance.
All past threshholds of sleep sum the souls which awake,
Our long-sleeping souls which carve lines into shade,
Which the new sun inflames into visions.
But these are the scenes which danced in our eyes
As we last fell asleep.
While we dream we compile a new image-world,
We only dust off the old one.
Waking, we only dust off ourselves.
This is the crystal we dream.
We wake anew, to a sun we’ve never seen,
Whose mystery lends clues of continuity.
We search the dawn’s shadows for traces of night,
And of what we dream we saw
In the dreams we dream we dreamt all night,
In a night we know never was
But we try to pretend into having been.
For if it really passed, and the dreams really danced,
They could have danced to a song from yesterday,
Where we once danced for a different sun,
Whose clues of continuity lend mystery
To this morning’s sun we’ve never seen.
If the light and love of our newest dawns
Were mingled in any of our past nights,
The spangling would range infinite,
Splashing the sky with a million dazzling suns.
The shores of this sky at our islands’ fringe
Would dissolve all bounds of vision and voice,
Assuming all life we could ever know.
The fringe of forever would harmonize
Becoming and being, and we’d finally find peace.
But in art we find only intimations,
Whose frailness belies the dream of peace,
Implies storm and surge and the billowed fears.
But the battering wave is why we live,
To share its ride’s the vast purpose we dream,
And we see that life is not what we paint,
That our art is our souls’ respiration;
That we paint our lives at our breathing pace,
Conjure ourselves from the nothing we were,
Blaze with the light of the life that we are.

March 13, 2010

“The Front Fell Off” – A Funny Video

Filed under: Uncategorized — Russ @ 3:56 pm

I want to see if I now know how to embed a video, so here’s a funny one I saw the other day over at The Big Picture. 

Two Paintings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Russ @ 3:44 pm


Apocalyptic Landscapes, 1913

The Burned-Out Homeless Ones, 1912

These are two paintings from Ludwig Meidner’s Apocalyptic Landscapes series.

I just wanted to figure out how to put images in a post, something I’ve been procrastinating about learning. So we’ll see if this works.

March 12, 2010

Bush Rehab (Social Fascists, 1 of 2)


It’s long been known among those familiar with him that Obama is a neoliberal corporatist. That’s why, under Robert Rubin’s tutelage, he became the recipient of the bulk of Wall Street donations. Still, even the corporatists must be pleasantly surprised at the gleeful alacrity with which Obama has broken all his change promises and instead devoted his presidency to looting the country on their behalf even more brazenly than Bush did.
Meanwhile the Republicans, who had to expect the worst for themselves (since Obama could easily have served his masters while still hammering the Reps), must be amazed at how well Obama and the Democrats have fixed things up for them as well. If Obama’s actions prove that his first priority is to serve Wall Street and the big rackets, his second has been to rehabilitate George Bush and the Republicans.
It was only a little while ago that Bush policy and Bush disasters were almost universally repudiated as one long bad dream. Everyone agreed that Iraq was a debacle, that the MSM had behaved shamefully in shilling for it, serving as stenographer for administration lies, that Democrats had been wrong to support it. Since the financial crash everyone uttered a big sigh of relief that Social Security privatization had failed. Everyone said, Where would we be today if Bush and Wall Street’s plot had succeeded? Fighting back to defeat it was the Democrats’ one great moment in an otherwise dismal decade of cowardice and betrayal. Even Republicans didn’t want to associate themselves with the Bush years exemplified by the monumental failure and betrayal of Katrina. 
Katrina broke Bush’s spell over the people. Katrina opened up the space for the Dems to crawl back into power, as Bush’s real approval rating permanently plummeted below 30%. For the rest of history, any revived good feelings for Bush and his Republicans will only be the result of nostalgia as things get even worse. The truth about how the people really saw him will never change.
But Democrats are also eternally Democrats, and the same cowardice and betrayal which characterize them in opposition even more profoundly mark them in power. Look at how Obama and the Dem establishment have embarked upon the full-scale rehabilitation of all the defining Bush policies and actions.
Obama’s refusal to obey the law and bring Bush war criminals to justice is one part of a broader program to reglorify Bush’s war, including Iraq. Obama did say he’d continue the war in Afghanistan, while promising to get out of Iraq. But he never hinted at the sprawling escalation he’s actually embarked upon in the Afghan theater. Meanwhile, he’s indicating that the vaunted Iraq withdrawal also isn’t going to happen.
The Democratic rehabilitation of the Iraq war and the most vile tactics used to fight it has in turn encouraged the MSM to flip yet again on the war. After their sojourn of some years of apologetics and even some alleged self-searching, outfits like the WaPo and NYT coming back full circle to their original jingoism. (These days chickenhawk Bill Keller at the NYT seems to want to outdo the Times’ old bloodlust, even soliciting op-eds complaining that Americans aren’t killing enough civilians.) Afghanistan, just like Iraq before it, is the glorious project for a unified front of the same old warmongering flacks representing themselves as decent, responsible people. And now even Iraq is being restored to its old respectable position.
Surely it could never be possible that the worst fuck-up of an American government imaginable, the multiple SNAFUs which converged in the Katrina disaster, could ever be rehabilitated? For the first time in broad daylight, for all the world to see, America was revealed in its true banana republic nature. No one would ever want to revise this as a great time. And when Naomi Klein depicted in Shock Doctrine how American governments and business leaders were overjoyed at the disaster capitalist opportunities the havoc had opened up, this was surely a slanderous exaggeration on her part? Sure, there’s always a few rotten crooks and vultures in any disaster, but decent people would never so much as think, let alone act upon, such a notion as exploiting the great suffering of a disaster-beleaguered people to do things like destroying their homes and schools permanently?
Well, yes they could. And while Bush’s own people lied about their intent and actions, it was left to Obama himself to openly say, “Katrina was a good thing”. We now have smoking gun confirmation that Klein was always right not only about the actions but the systematic intentions and precalculation. Yet it’s not even unreconstructed Bush Republicans who are cheering on the Bush system’s crimes here. Here, as with Iraq, it’s the Obama administration which has dedicated itself to rehabilitating Bush’s worst crimes and failures. Obama’s goal is nothing less than to revise history so that Bush’s worst disasters are reformulated as triumphs.
Obama’s actions prove that he cherishes his position as steward of Bush’s assault on civil liberties. And, as the keystone of his overarching dream of out-Bushing Bush, Obama even wants to carry to completion Bush’s failed project to privatize social security. Never mind that there’s no reason to even think of this; that for this zombie system a dozen crises loom, any one of which is more pressing than this; how the system will be brought down of its own weight long before Social Security could ever come into crisis of its own accord; how even acknowledging the notion gives aid and comfort to Republican memes in general; how nobody who’s not a criminal wants to even discuss “entitlement reform” right now.
None of that matters. Obama, with the support of the deficit terrorists* in the MSM, has unilaterally decreed that privatization must be on the table. The only conceivable reason to do it is to further empower Wall Street, and that as always is Obama’s main motivation. But he also wants to step up the assault on the social safety net, on general principle. That’s part of his homage to his true hero, Reagan. And here above all we see the reason for his rehabilitation of Bush. If Obama can first redeem Bush, revive all of Bush’s ideas and projects, reaffirm them all as good, and then outdo Bush at their achievement, he’ll have proven himself even more Reaganesque than Bush. He’ll be the real Bush, and therefore the real consummator of the Reagan revolution, and therefore the consummator of neoliberalism and the imperial presidency in themselves. Here we see the true evil and derangement of Obama’s deepest fantasy.
That’s why some commentators, including myself, have compared gutting Social Security and Medicare to Nixon’s going to China. Just as it’s been supposed that only a Republican could go to China, so now they’re trying to make it look like only a Democrat can undertake the necessary (in the mind of the establishment) painful job of destroying these popular programs.
Does this sound like a fanciful interpretation? It’s borne out by the evidence. It’s hard to explain Obama’s actions otherwise. And Obama’s only the epitome of the true nature of Democratic party hacks and liberal cadres. He exemplifies what they really are, as I’ll discuss in the sequel to this post.
[*Just to be clear, the reason deficits don’t matter is because the system is already unsustainable because of the lack of sufficient physical energy to keep it “growing”, and because, as we’re already seeing, the debt tower is just one big ponzi scheme. Even if there were no such thing as Peak Oil, the system’s own contradictions render it impossible to prop it up. They’re liquidating the rest of the existing “consumers”, and they’re not going to be able to create new ones out of Chinese peasants.
So for these reasons the reserve currency’s already a dead dollar walking. The entitlement system is already doomed. All these now are just political fictions. So if the issue of a “reform commission” comes up, that’s just the same exercise in political theater as the legislative kabuki over bogus health “reform” or finance “reform”. The only question is who gets a political boost out of the way a play is performed.
So if Obama makes up out of thin air this alleged necessity to resurrect a Republican meme which was dead and buried, this can only help the Republican political brand as such. Indeed, it’s so obvious that it’s hard to believe even he’s stupid enough not to realize that. That’s why it’s such a prime piece of evidence that Obama actually wants to rehab the Republicans.
If we ask how he could think that sacrificing himself for the sake of the Republicans would gain him credit as having consummated the Reagan legacy, why he doesn’t know that they’ll still revile him as a “socialist” and spit on his memory, I guess we can chalk that up to his fundamental kumbaya character flaw. Deep down he’s not only desperate for the right-wing cool kids to like him, but is actually deluded that his own personal greatness and righteousness (as he’s deluded into seeing them) will overcome all their resistance, contempt, and hatred.] 

March 10, 2010

To Restore the American Spirit

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russ @ 6:48 am


Yesterday (and in many previous posts) I gave a brief overview of the assault on American freedom. This is no longer “creeping” tyranny; it’s at a gallop.
When we ponder this we must recall how the Founding Fathers saw these things. They too saw freedom under attack. They responded with heroic action. But this action didn’t just spring from nowhere. it was grounded in a firm freedom principle and a keen perception of the basic power calculus of this world.
The Founders’ political philosophy can be summed up as: Freedom is the highest ideal, the core principle which gives value to all others, the reason for living. But freedom is always under assault from power. This is not just because men are greedy and tyrannical, although this is true of many. Rather, power itself, by its very inertia, seeks to engulf and diminish freedom. “Power corrupts”, as Acton was later to say.
The Founders knew with John Adams that political power meant dominion of man over man. There was no other way for it to exist. It’s true that some level of such power and such dominion must exist if we’re to have human society. But this power must eternally be kept under rein by eternal vigilance.
In his great survey The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution Bernard Bailyn compiles many expressions of this theme.

Most commonly the discussion of power centered on its essential characteristic of aggressiveness: its endlessly propulsive tendency to expand itself beyond legitimate boundaries. In expressing this central thought, which explained to them more of politics, past and present, than any other single consideration, the writers of the time outdid themselves in verbal ingenuity. All sorts of metaphors, similes, and analogies were used to express this view of power. The image most commonly used was that of the act of trespassing. Power, it was said over and over again, has “an encroaching nature”; “…if at first it meets with no control it creeps by degrees and quick subdues the whole.” Sometimes the image is of the human hand, “the hand of power”, reaching out to clutch and seize: power is “grasping” and “tenacious” in its nature; “what it seizes it will retain.” Sometimes power is “like the ocean, not easily admitting limits to be fixed in it.” Sometimes it is “like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour.” Sometimes it is motion, desire, and appetite all at once, being “restless, aspiring, and insatiable.” Sometimes it is like “jaws…always opened to devour.” It is everywhere in public life, and everywhere it is threatening, pushing, and grasping; and too often in the end it destroys its benign victim.

These could have been direct commentary on the analysis of the power ideology given by Hobbes, that men must be considered nothing but calculating, power-seeking machines. According to Hobbes, freedom for all would simply render society impossible. On the contrary, absolute tyrannical power must be concentrated in a power structure which he called the Leviathan. Hobbes’ motivation in this was to justify authoritarian power. (He had also been personally discombobulated by the civil war and feared any kind of uncertainty or political disorganization whatsoever.)
It could also be commentary on the relentless inertia of the growth ideology as enshrined in large-scale capitalism. Growth without grounding, profit without purpose, expansion without expectation, all of it simply “appetite..feeding upon itself”, which must inevitable cannibalize itself – by now we know how literally totalitarian in is. As Arendt put it, growth as a violent principle must simply expand “until there’s nothing left to violate”.
These are the forms of the unrelenting assault of power upon freedom. The Founders believed that liberty was the eternal prey always at risk of becoming power’s victim.
Liberty, law, right, are self-evident and do not arise out of power. On the contrary the only way power can ever be legitimate is if it’s grounded in right and law and remains under their command.
Power on the one hand; liberty and law on the other:

The one was brutal, ceaselessly active, and heedless; the other was delicate, passive, and sensitive. The one must be resisted, the other defended, and the two must never be confused. “Right and power”, Richard Bland stated, “have very different meanings, and convey very different ideas”; “power abstracted from right cannot give a just title to dominion”, nor is it possible legitimately, or even logically, to “build right upon power.” When the two are intermingled, when “brutal power” becomes “an irresistible argument of boundless right”, as it did, John Dickinson explained, under the Cromwellian dictatorship, innocence and justice can only sigh and quietly submit.

Maybe this all sounds obvious, but it’s not the way the modern world, or modern government, functions. The power command of money and physical violence have nothing to with law and right, and are their nemeses. On the contrary, since right is by definition self-created, then by definition to be rich and physically powerful, and to seek political power based only on these, automatically rules out the right. Such power usurpers are outlaws. By definition money and physical dominion can rule only as tyranny, never as legitimate power. This is what the Founding Fathers believed.
Legitimate power derives only from the people, from voluntary political and social concord. To conserve this power so that it enhances and preserves, rather than violates, liberty, requires eternal vigilance. Vigilance and the will to fight were at the core of the American Revolution, and have always been the measure of whether values exist at all.
What’s the measure of freedom? Your will to fight for it. Where must we be vigilant? Where must we fight? Unfortunately the front line seems to be everywhere we look. Big banks, health care rackets, Pentagon weapons rackets, Big Ag, and everywhere else. What can we do, beyond protest?
For now the real action isn’t in karate but in judo. We can’t directly smash the big structures. But we can evade them and let their weight undermine them, by becoming a coordinated network of small producers,  building community self-reliance, constructing local and regional economies which are as self-sufficient as possible, and which keep locally produced wealth in the community and fight to keep predatory foreign wealth out. Relocalization in all things, economic, social, cultural, and political, is the only road to freedom.
So we can transpose the ideals and words of the American Revolution, which we were taught as the great shining event of not only our own but of all human history. We can redeem this often hijacked ideal by restoring it to its rightful place, as the fight against tyranny. Today it’s the corporate tyranny we must fight. Relocalization is the strategy and the desired end goal. Most of our tactics will involve it as well. It’s the age’s embodiment of the freedom principle. To go local is to be free.
So we must start with the principle. We Americans must decide who we are. The principle – to be free or to be a slave? And the actions which both define the principle and then follow from it. That defines us all. 

March 9, 2010

American Spirit?

Filed under: Corporatism, Freedom, Neo-feudalism — Tags: , — Russ @ 6:26 am


Everywhere we look today we see the spirit of America under assault. The Obama administration continues the Bush/Cheney assault on civil liberties. Those who present the finest exercise of our constitutional protections are demonized in the MSM. The MSM itself is already carrying out Cass Sunstein’s directive on how alternative media should be first assaulted and then muzzled completely. The “supreme court” recently declared that the administration can declare anyone – anyone – an enemy combatant who would then no longer exist in the eyes of the law or the constitution.
Does this sound familiar?

The decisive factor was that the conservatives made no effort to preserve the rights of habeas corpus. This fearful gap meant that henceforth there was no limit to outrages by the state. The police could arbitrarily arrest and extend the period of detention indefinitely. They could leave relatives without any news concerning the reasons for the arrest and the fate of the person arrested. They could prevent a lawyer or other persons from visiting him or examining the files on the case….They could torture the prisoner….No court would ever find the case in its files. No court had the right to interfere, even if a judge unofficially obtained knowledge of the circumstances.

Is that German policy under the Emergency Decree imposed following the Reichstag Fire in 1933, or is it today’s War-on-Terror America? In principle, that’s what we now have. It’s administration policy and enshrined by the so-called supreme court.
Meanwhile we have the permanent imperial war, the militarization of the police, and the systematic suppression of protest. The purpose of all of these is (1) profit (as always), and (2) repression toward enslavement.
All of these are details of the corporate tyranny now enclosing America in its death shroud, to choke off all light and air. This is truly Bailout America, since the core premise of all government policy is the succor and power of the big banks. No one who’s not a flack or a slave disputes that nothing whatsoever can happen in federal policy except with the consent of Wall Street. It has at least a veto over literally everything, and actively writes and drives much policy, including all sham “regulatory” policy.
So Wall Street is the universal spider which has spun out the web of rackets, and every other racket – real estate, insurance, pharmaceuticals, big box retail, weapons, “security”, industrial agriculture, fossil fuels, automobiles, “education”, the MSM, big entertainment, as well as all “green” scams which pretend to mitigate the environmental problems of these while leaving the rackets intact – all these radiate out from the big banks. The federal government by now is nothing but the material for the web. It has no “policy” of its own.
They’re closing in all right.
This is the world of the great war of freedom vs. tyranny. It’s hard to see where to make a stand and fight. Was Iceland’s resounding rejection of its planned debt enslavement a real call to action? Or was it just a tantrum before caving in? I hate to have doubts, but when we look at how the polls show majorities among Greeks wanting to submit to servitude, and how they’re willing to sell out their own protests (true protestors are always the real voice of the people), we have to remain calm and wait to see what develops. It’s still a much better show than anything being put on in America. The reaction of the Icelandic people to their government’s treachery, short a short while after they ousted a previous rogue government, offers hope. But they have a lot of work to do yet. The first thing is to get rid of this government, and not screw around this time in establishing a new one. They need to get straight on rejecting not just a particular plan to enslave them, but the whole debt system. (They’re already trying to brainstorm ways to generate income outside the European stranglehold. That’s a good start in principle, now they need to keep going.)
Meanwhile there’s the question of the British themselves, as their own debt collapse impends. They too have been complacent, not only in the face of bank tyranny but a general surveillance regime which is literally totalitarian. It’s hard to hope that when their turn comes, they won’t cave in and be rounded up.
The goal is to turn each country into one big debtors’ prison. Latvia’s already there. Greece is being rounded up as we speak, while the Americans and British also are being herded, though here the real roundup is yet to come.
For the moment Iceland is dodging the net. So let’s cheer them on, and look to ourselves to find the same spirit.
What’s the real spirit of America?

March 7, 2010

New Icelandic Sagas


It’s a good moment in Iceland, as voters overwhelmingly rejected the bailout assault their rogue government is trying to impose upon them.

Another implication is that an IMF-led loan is now in limbo, demonstrating that the international bailout watchdog is truly powerless when the people of the bailout recipient nation want to have nothing to do with the international rescue circuit.

The corporate NYT seems to be in some denial about this, judging by its headline “Voters in Iceland Appear to Reject Repayment Plan”. Yes, 93% against is quite an appearance.
And of course, this is no proposed “repayment” but rather a demand that Iceland’s people be stripped naked in the Icelandic wind to pay off British and Dutch governments who already bailed out their own speculators at least at par. But the NYT piece seems confused about this, and confused about itself as well. It thinks it’s an op-ed piece, evidently.

How to repay the debt, which represents more than 40 percent of Iceland’s gross domestic product, has consumed this small, isolated nation for the last year and a half, since its banks failed, its stock market crashed and its currency collapsed.

Shouldn’t that be, whether to pay off this debt, and is “the” debt their debt at all? The banksters’ debt is definitely not their debt at all.

But the vote has been overtaken by events, the government said: the deal at issue in the referendum is no longer the deal that is currently on the table in international negotiations.

Each day of delay increases Iceland’s financial burden. The second installment of a much-needed loan from the International Monetary Fund and a coalition of Nordic countries has been put off pending resolution of the dispute.

Britain has warned Iceland that it risks being an international pariah if it does not pay the money back and has threatened to stall the country’s efforts to join the European Union.

The Icesave matter has put increasing pressure on the year-old Icelandic government, a fragile coalition led by Johanna Sigurdardottir of the Social Democratic Party. On the one hand, it needs to show that it acknowledges the public’s deep bitterness; on the other, it needs to negotiate a deal quickly in order to move economic recovery along.

“We need to keep going,” Ms. Sigurdardottir said in a television interview. “We have to get an agreement.”

“It needs to negotiate a deal quickly in order to move economic recovery along.” That’s some reportage. We know that’s what the government says Iceland “needs” to do. (And “quickly” – that’s how you know you’re dealing with disaster capitalist vultures: everything always has to be so fast, always a stampede. Why does it have to be done “quickly”? I thought about it, and I can’t think of the reason. The fact is, as always they want to cut of the thought process, because anybody who thinks much about this realizes that none of these bailouts should be done at all. That they’re all great capital crimes.)
The government hastened to make clear its anti-democratic intent:

But the referendum was more symbolic than substantive, and the Icelandic government hastened to make clear that Iceland would still pay back the money, albeit on different terms from the ones rejected.

“We want to be perfectly clear that a ‘no’ vote does not mean we are refusing to pay,” Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson said. “We will honor our obligations. To maintain anything else is highly dangerous for the economy of this country.”

Evidently you are wrong. You don’t seem to speak for the people, in spite of your lies to the contrary. But then, what can we expect from someone whose entire vocabulary is a compendium of criminal lies about “obligations” and what’s “highly dangerous” to the economy. What’s dangerous to the economy is to allow a criminal cabal to run it. Iceland did that for too long, and now they’re paying the price. They’ve taken some small steps to take back their country, but as these “negotiations” make clear, they still have a long way to go. They’re still saddled with the same criminals.
The banksters themselves earlier fled the country. As well they should have, given how direct some of the rage has been, with even some physical vandalism of their houses. And where are these banksters today? Conferring with their counterparts on how to ram this bailout down the Icelandic people’s throats. How to “take back” the country for themselves. They’re exactly like the monarchist conspirators against France during the early part of the Revolution. They are in fact traitors.
That’s why the French cut off the King’s head – for treason.
And that’s what the people of Iceland need to do. They should indict the gangsters for the whole litany of their crimes, starting with treason. Demand extradition. Meanwhile they should speak directly to the people of Britain and the Netherlands. They should say: “Don’t let them direct your anger against us. As we speak, our gangsters and your gangsters are conspiring against all of us. Direct your anger and your action against them. We’re taking back our country. How about you?”
(But it’s true, if you’re still brainwashed and still a slave to consumerism, then there’s no way off the debt treadmill. In that case, after this tantrum the people of Iceland will indeed have to bow and crawl and grovel in the end. The NYT and the Iceland gang will be proven right.)
But if they’re willing to grow up, to get serious, to take their lives and freedom back into their hands, perhaps the means are at hand. If Iceland rejects its debt immolation and faces consequent economic hardship, then its most pressing need will be food.
From things I’ve read over the years (during the boom), Iceland’s geothermal energy is so abundant they have a vast infrastructure of spas and heated pools. If they have enough energy for such luxury, they must have enough for necessities.
So I’d say shut down Nero’s bathhouses, take all the energy that frees up, and use it to heat greenhouses to grow crops.
I haven’t looked at the numbers, so I don’t know for sure if they could become self-sufficient in food that way, but they could take a huge step toward it, which would be a huge step toward economic self-sufficiency in general.
If they’re serious about their human freedom and their human dignity, that’s what they’d do. What could be more pressing than food security for the people? And who other than an antisocial criminal could oppose it? Any such obstruction rules himself out of the community, rules himself an outlaw.
The same food lesson of course applies far beyond Iceland. This post isn’t really even about Iceland. 

March 5, 2010

Beware of Greeks Forswearing Thrift, Say the Bubble-Blowing Germans


Today Greek Prime Minister Papandreou visits his German counterpart, probably to beg for a bailout. It’s hard to tell, with every kind of rumor buzzing about for weeks now, each one contradicting the last. Do the Greeks really want a bailout at the price they’d have to pay? Are the Germans willing (able?) to bail them out under any circumstances? Will the Greeks bring in the IMF? What does anyone really think or want? No one seems to know.
The confusion is understandable. The European Union is another creature of the bubble. The concept only ever made any sense if prices rose above the cost of debt servicing forever. So just like every other absurd pretension of the bubble, this one too was doomed to collapse the moment prices peaked and fell.
Attain a unified currency and a unified monetary policy, but otherwise retain full national sovereignty including over fiscal policy. Today we see how luxurious such a concept is.
Now that the music stopped and there’s not enough chairs even for all the gangsters, everyone’s scrambling to conserve what he looted, cast blame, and if possible go into disaster capitalist mode.
We should be clear that the Greek gang, while certainly venal, did spread out the loot more than many other countries. For as long as the bubble lasted, at least some non-rich Greeks such as public workers benefited. Of course, that has set them up to be the scapegoats now that everything’s falling apart, even though the main beneficiaries by far were the rich and powerful, as always. (I don’t doubt the official hostility toward Greece, so suspiciously absent where it has come to a corporate entity like Lehman or AIG, has a lot to do with the fact that some of the Greek loot was spread further than the halls of rapacity.)   
The German government, with a big assist from the Western media, has taken the lead in castigating the Greeks. The lie is that the Germans have been responsible and frugal. In fact, the Germans themselves have been just as irresponsible. Their own budget deficit is running at 6.3% of GDP, over double the EU’s vaunted 3% limit. But of course for Germany and France (7.5%) the rules are made to be broken. They’re only ever meant to apply to those lazy “Club Med” countries. It’ll be funny to watch the Germans indulge themselves in the same rhetoric when the Spanish bailout is at hand. How much did the Germans complain when German money was blowing up the Spanish housing bubble?
Germany is just as insolvent as Greece. But since its economy is bigger it has more inertia, and since it has more clout it has more Too Big To Fail cred and gets a premium on its ridiculous debt. But that just means its own default is postponed.
Here’s the basic chronology. In October Papandreou came into office, discovered the long-running budgetary accounting fraud, and publicized it. Since then he’s been scrambling to find some way to get a bailout while not having to enact “austerity” measures so severe that he’d be committing political suicide at home. He’s been finding it difficult to thread this course between Scylla and Charibdis. (Greeks must be exasperated by now at all these mythological allusions. But look at what Americans have to put up with – comparisons to stuff like Donald Trump and “American Idol”. Consider yourselves blessed there.)
Led by Germany, the EU has demanded the standard crowbar be taken to the people before any candy is dispensed. It wasn’t enough when Greece pledged to freeze wages, cut bonuses, crack down on tax evasion, and raise the retirement age from 61 to 63, provoking widespread protests. Papandreou has since promised a second wave of attacks, raising the 19% VAT to 21%, imposing higher fuel pirces, and abolishing part of the bonus pay of many workers. These are all, needless to say, highly regressive measures, just like the first round. But jolly Olli Rehn, economic commissioner of the ECB, says this isn’t enough gutting and looting: “But further on, in 2011 and 2012, further measures will be necessary.” No word on whether these further measures include his surrendering his bonus, or if he and his colleagues will be undergoing a clawback for their incompetent performance as “economic commissioners”.
The MSM has been especially lurid in its depiction of the sinister “fourteenth month” pay many Greek workers get. Needless to say, we don’t need to take that term seriously so long as the Wall Street scum who crashed the economy and have already stolen $14 trillion from the taxpayers are still collecting “bonuses”. Eradicate all bankster bonuses and then come back and complain to me about any hard-fought element of worker pay.
The “Club Med” version of Phil Gramm’s “predatory borrowers” lie is the standard MSM line. (We’re even getting lectures and Just So stories about Alexander Hamilton of all people. Yes indeed, you can define success any way you want according to your ideology. Saddle the common people with the debts of the rich? Yes, Hamilton is your patron saint.)
Greece has suggested it might turn to the IMF for a bailout. This could make some sense from Greece’s point of view. The IMF would make the same crowbar “austerity” demands as Germany and France, but in return they’d be guaranteed sufficient assistance, whereas Germany and France are making the demands but are still all squirrelly about the candy. Indeed there’s some doubt about whether they even can bail Greece out.
Politically it’s a mess. The German people are just as furious about a possible bailout as the Greeks are about being crowbarred. (Both are certainly putting the American sheeple to shame.)
There’s also the technicality that an EU bailout would be illegal. But no one takes that seriously.
(Yesterday’s Economist story is amusing on this. This passage gave me a grim chuckle:

The German constitutional court ruled two decades ago that the Maastricht treaty was acceptable only if its no bail-out provisions were respected—so any bail-out would have to be disguised to avoid legal challenges.

Ho-hum. Another stupid law. Another stupid treaty. Another stupid constitution. So how will they get around it this time? Such a world-weariness….)
But it’s mostly the economic uncertainty, the bailed-out leading the bailout, which is causing such dithering. Nobody can figure out even in concept what they might want to do. One bailout possibility is for individual countries (i.e. Germany and France) to give foreign aid assistance to Greece. Another is for German and French banks to buy Greek bonds (just like Fed MBS purchases). Or a joint loan from, once again, Germany and France. Or they could guarantee Greek bonds. Nothing appeals, and nobody really wants to do any of this. There’s a real ick factor about it.
But at the same time they’re taking offense at the possibility of IMF involvement. On Wednesday ECB head Trichet said it would be “inappropriate.” It would certainly be humiliating to the EU concept, subversive of its auctoritas.
Meanwhile the speculators have been getting more and more excited. This week the terrorist markets reacted well to the new austerity announcement and the bullish bailout talk. In spite of Greek travails its latest bond issue was oversubscribed. The rates they’re paying, while high, are still low compared to other countries which have been in such a predicament. That’s the Euro bailout premium.
The bond terrorists are trying to use Greece’s small, troubled market to attack the Euro as a whole. The Europeans have been whining about how these acts of war on the part of Goldman and others are “legal” in America. Yes, it’s despicable, but America’s government is despicable, and its law has been hijacked. So Europe should criminalize it. Label them the terrorists they are, indict them, demand their extradition. Make it impossible for them to set foot in Europe. Meanwhile civilly sue those banks in Europe.
But silly me. They don’t really object to terroristic speculation as such. On the contrary they’re committed to it. They’re just whining when they’re the ones getting hammered by it. They’re like Charlie Sheen in “Wall Street”, who’s clearly never repentant about his crimes in general, but only that he brought the assault down on his own people.
These “traders” plan to exploit Greek weakness and use it to destabilize the rest of Europe. They’ll be taking the Continental Tour, from Greece to Spain, Portugal, Italy, perhaps a side trip to Ireland…..
Perhaps as we speak Papandreou and Merkel are discussing these things. We’ll have to wait to find out if the always-classy Germans like Merkel’s coalition ally Josef Schlarmann shout directly in Papandreou’s face things like “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!”
Polite or not, disaster capitalism is always the top item on the agenda. The boom-bust, bubble-crash, rent-extracting/bailout/disaster looting model is now the true “business cycle” according to the system’s agenda. What’s happening today in Europe is the according to the same template as in America in 2008. The Greek gang and the finance terrorists, with the acquiescence of the bosses, ran up public debt for private looting, just like a two-bit third world tinpot despot. Now the crash, and they’re crying for the bailout. Here as before we have disaster capitalism’s quadruple goal: (1) preserve the existing privatized loot, (2) loot more through the bailout, while (3) terrorists use the chaos to speculate, while (4) the gangs seize the opportunity to privatize public property, gut social spending, deregulate, and wage class war on the workers. 
Look around this bailout, and you’ll see how every detail fits into the scheme, just as with all previous bailouts.
Meanwhile the Greek protests have been fiery. In their latest action the people seized the Finance Ministry building. We must hope for such resistance to continue and grow. And maybe the Germans will be next, as their system begins to collapse as well. Every assaulted populace can be the base for a take-back-the-country insurgency. Who knows? Enough protest, and they might even accomplish the seemingly impossible: to wake up the American people.        
So I wonder what’s going on in that meeting right now?

March 3, 2010

Liberal Teabaggers and “Process”, vs. New Action

Filed under: Corporatism, Reformism Can't Work, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russ @ 6:31 am


The hardest thing is to figure out how to get started organizing against the machine and for new American communities. Everyone who hasn’t sold out agrees we need a new politics to replace the politics which was corrupted. The big risk is that any new idea quickly becomes co-opted and Astroturfed.
I think a basic measure of how conscious people are is to what extent they still expect reform of the existing system. This is clearly impossible.
That’s the first question I ask whenever I hear a new term like the Coffee Party. Do people recognize that only we can redeem ourselves, starting from seed, or do they still dream of a dispensation from on high?
And so, the Coffee Party –  what is it? Even they have no idea. They say they’re going to have a democratic symposium to decide what they believe. (This is the answer at their FAQ, “Will we have a platform?”) That sounds like the firm basis for a passionate movement. We’re gonna fight hard for something, but for what we haven’t decided yet.
(There’s an old Peanuts where Linus is standing there with his hair dishevelled and eyes bugging out of his head. He says, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a fanatic!” Charlie Brown asks him, What are you going to be fanatical about? “I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll just be a wishy-washy kind of fanatic.”)
“It’s clear the Coffee Party activists are trying hard to define themselves as something other than a Tea Party for liberals.”
That’s evident. Real movements start with core principles, prescriptions which are mostly vague (because at the initial state of political weakness it’s tactically stupid to tie your hands with too many specifics), and fire.
But these people start with nothing but tepid vagueness and expect to synthesize fire out of principles and prescriptions to be clinically derived through some “process”. Always process with these people. It’s a substitute for action. It’s clear what’s really going on here – we have process freaks dissatisfied with existing processes, so they’re using the notion of movement building as the pretext to invent a process through which they can put themselves.
Sure enough, the leaders are mostly Obama cadres and other establishment Democrats:

Annabel Park, a former organizer for Jim Webb and, more recently, with Asians for Obama, channeled candidate Obama when explaining her philosophy: “We are all Americans. We should not divide ourselves over differences of opinion. We need to be one community. Our democracy is what unites us as a people.”

According to Park, one of the “key differences” between the Tea Partiers and the Coffee Partiers is “our emphasis on the democratic process, on respectful and civil engagement with one another and with our elected officials.”

It’s also clear that they’re dedicated to the obstruction of class consciousness. That is, of an accurate understanding of what’s happening in America. What are the crimes, who are the criminals, how they’re doing it. Of course – because Obama himself is one of the arch-criminals.
This is an Astroturf, and to the extent that rank and file progressives still let themselves be rounded up for the Democratic Party like this, they are indeed liberal teabaggers.
(By contrast, if I were starting an organization, I’d start by proclaiming our positive principle is relocalization, and our negative principle is anti-corporatism. Everything else flows strategically and tactically from those two principles. The measure of everything else is its utility. No prejudices. So, for example, if the question was, “do we draw up a platform”, the answer would be, sure, people like to read platforms, so we’ll draw up a platform, not that it really means much. But it could be useful.
It wouldn’t be, hmm, a platform, a process to figure out what we believe? Great! We’ll get to vote on stuff! And that’s really what we’re here to do. Process!
A true fighting organization would have two principles, and we wouldn’t be voting on those. I’d say, “Is this your fight? Then this is the place.”)
So that Coffeebeaner quote I gave above makes it clear that they’re still dreaming of system reform and redemption of the Democrats. But as I said, a basic measure of maturity is recognition that there will never again be any constructive action at the federal level, legislative or otherwise, out of this system. Any major new legislation can only make things worse, so optimally there would never again be a major new bill passed
That’s why the best we can hope for is gridlock. That’s why, for example, we should be glad the filibuster exists.
(Here’s an issue where the process mentality often rears its head. You’ll see those who are passionate about getting rid of the filibuster, not because they think we’ll get better laws that way, but because it’s not good “democratic process” as they learned it in civics class.
They refuse to understand that we no longer have democracy. Not under this system. To still pretend we do only makes one another dreamer laboring under the burden of ideals and constraints no one else, and certainly not the enemy, recognizes anymore. It’s part of fighting with one or both hands tied behind your back, which seems to be the norm with “progressives.”
If we want to recover democracy, we have to start all over, from the soil. The primal election, however, is the one occurring existentially, as we speak, as people choose their sides of the battle line.
The existing system is simply a free-fire zone.
So those who still fetishize the trappings of centralized democracy are just tools of what Wolin called inverted totalitarianism, creeping corporate tyranny embellished with a pseudo-democratic facade. It’s vapid “process”-worship.)
So our activism has to be from the bottom up. Individualistic and then community-oriented. We can envision a progress from individual preparation, getting out of debt and renouncing consumerism on the individual and family levels, acting upon initiatives like Move Your Money; from there to community activism, with the overall goal always political, social, and economic relocalization. Economic relocalization is the real anchor, the hardest to achieve, but the great project for relocalizing political and social activism.
And then from that foundation perhaps broader syndicalist communication (like the old revolutionary Committees of Correspondence) and coordination toward regional and perhaps state level action, and specialized national initiatives.
I only listed those by level of organization, though chronologically some or all could be pursued at once, however things play out. As always the two principles and the great project constitute the firmament, while all strategy and tactics are flexible.
(The goal of individual preparation made me wonder, is it doomed to fecklessness the way telling people to change light bulbs as a serious measure vs. carbon emissions was? The difference is that such stuff is doomed to fail if you expect it to help achieve broad system reform. Reform can only happen if the elites at the top have a change of heart, and that’s not going to happen.
Anyway, the consumer, so long as he felt economically intact, was never going to do more than tweak his lifestyle. He was never going to undergo, en masse, the structural change necessary to really reduce greenhouse gases. Only now that the middle class is being socioeconomically liquidated is there any chance of that.
Ironically, this may finally give them the chance to take some control of their destiny amid the storm and travail by making a virtue of necessity and renouncing consumerism. Is this more likely than that they’ll hunker in the bunker, dig in teabagger style, the-American-way-of-life-is-not-negotiable style? Probably not. But issuing the call is worth a try.
But where individual action is freedom-oriented, seeking to build self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-respect, with zero system expectation, but with the goal of rebuilding community on such a locally sustainable basis, it’s the best thing we can do. Even changing light bulbs is good from that point of view, as a detail of the big picture: using less electricity in general, and relocalizing generation of the electricity we do use. Every detail can be one detail of a radical transformation toward freedom.)

March 1, 2010

(De)fault Line Status Report: MBS and Mortgages


One of the great mysteries of the universe for this administration is what to do about mortgages. The political heat is on to help the growing legions of underwater homeowners, more and more of whom have taken the added hit of unemployment. They can envision only one outcome which can help those mired in negative equity, and that’s to reflate the housing bubble. That’s because their only answer to every policy question is to reflate some bubble, any bubble.
But stubborn reality is refusing to cooperate. Reality wants to deflate. “The market” wants real price discovery. Everything is resisting the administration’s bland hopes that an anodyne modification program, based only on temporarily reducing payments (while applying compounding interest to the principal), with only a thin slice of the beleaguered borrowers eligible, with lenders obstructing the whole way, can restore bubbling prices.
If that description sounded silly, it’s because the program isn’t meant to achieve anything. The whole thing really just meant to put on a political show. As always with Obama, it’s empty words and no action. That’s because the only things which truly could help underwater mortgage holders are permanent mods based on reductions of principal, and empowering bankruptcy judges to write down principal themselves (cramdowns). The problem here, other than that it eats into bank profit, is that writing down principal would help prices go in the reality-based direction, which directly contradicts the Obama re-bubble fantasy.
And what’s going to happen at the end of March when the Fed’s MBS purchases are supposed to end? In December the system quietly authorized itself to extend these buys to infinity, through the Fannie and Freddie bailout. (Fannie just announced it lost $16.3 billion in the Q4. As Dean Baker pointed out, if Fannie’s expenditures are simply buying MBS from the banks, and they lose money on the deal, then by definition they paid the banks too much. It’s simply another laundered bailout. A clandestine, illegal TARP.) But since the government is the only buyer for this toxic crap, if they stop buying MBS, the market for bundled loans will dry up. Without having an automatic buyer at bloated prices, mortgage lenders would find it worth their while to lend only at higher rates. The market is already moribund. So this can only further depress it. So there’s every reason to believe that the administration will see no choice but to continue with the MBS buys. How else can they even pretend to themselves they’re reflating the bubble?
What’s a poor administration to do? They seem well stocked with theology (“I believe because it’s absurd”; we are magically “predestined” toward resumed bubble growth) and metaphysical philosophy (“a conflict of duties is inconceivable”; the status quo is “the best of all possible worlds”), yet oddly these aren’t working. Maybe it’s time for some astrology? Elizabeth heard what she wanted to hear from Nostradamus, and she survived extreme perils. And Reagan’s reputation is holding up pretty well among Obama’s kind of people. Reagan is his hero, and he strives to imitate Reagan in every other policy arena, so why not bring in an astrologer as well? (I’d suggest the Oracle at Delphi if she still existed, but even of she did it would seem she’s not doing the Greeks much good these days.)
Well, we can leave Obama to rot in his self-festered cesspool. In the meantime, what about us peasants? How should we be viewing all this? What should an underwater homeowner be thinking? A renter?
We know the government doesn’t care about us. It cares only about the banks, and will do everything for the banks’ benefit. If that ever accidentally helps us, that’s incidental and not a feature.
So if they want to reflate the bubble, then they do want to accidentally help recover some of the position of existing underwater borrowers (although this completely leaves aside job loss and everything else which will make the high nominal mortgage values untenable regardless of what the market says). But at the same moment this would perpetuate the longstanding overvaluation of the necessity, shelter. With over 17% unemployed or underemployed (and if you add in all those who aren’t even counted by the U6 number but who really aren’t making this kind of living wage, the number is worse) and getting worse, any zombified housing bubble would simply increase the pain on the non-rich.
And it really wouldn’t help existing underwater borrowers in the long run. No such bubble is sustainable, and to zombify prices would simply delay the reality-based deflation and render it all the more catastrophic when it returned a few years down the line. In the meantime an ever greater mass of Americans would be priced out completely. Extended families cramming themselves together and tent cities will become ubiquitous.
So the prospect is for the unholy Fed-GSE MBS scam to be the lead drivers of the Bailout to prop up housing prices as high as possible for as long as possible, for the sake of propping up the insolvent banks’ balance sheets and phony profits, extending some meager relief to some homeowners while inflicting yet more general pain upon the populace.
So far their top-down reflation efforts have failed. One new kludge they’re floating is a HAMP-imposed freeze on foreclosures. This looks like an extension of the existing HAMP scam, the intent being the same, to induce underwater mortgage holders to keep paying instead of walking away. The only difference would be that whereas the old HAMP gave the lender complete freedom to foreclose at will, this would on paper restrict that. But the goal is the same, to bait people into thinking they’ll get a really helpful permanent mod when they’re really just being strung along.
Another, rather bizarre, proposal is to have the FDIC in some unspecified way effect a principal reduction after the underwater borrower has kept paying for some length of time. Again, reeks of a bait and switch. Meanwhile Citi is trying out the “deed in lieu of short sale” in several states. The deal would be that the borrower turns over the deed, gets to stay in the home for a certain number of months before leaving, and the bank promises not to foreclose during that time. (The borrower promises not to trash the house or strip it for spare parts.) You’d qualify for this plan once you’re 90 days late on the mortgage. So the borrower has to already have entered the credit score reporting extortion labyrinth before qualifying. In other words, this program is only for people who look serious about walking away. It’s not for those Citi thinks it can still bully into keeping up on payments they can’t really afford. It is not meant to help borrowers, even a little bit, but rather only to help Citi.
So there’s the situation. It’s doubtful that the system can reflate the bubble enough to help more than a few underwater borrowers. Such a reflation would be extremely precarious and temporary. It would be set up in a way to benefit the banks only, while their only real goal vis the borrower is to pretend they’re helping him.
So for those who are underwater, as painful as it may be, the reality is that their situation is not likely to be improved except in maybe the most fleeting manner. (So if you are holding on hoping prices will go back up, and they somehow miraculously do, you should probably get out while you’re lucky.) If you love your house and want to struggle to stay in it, fine. But be clear that it’s likely to remain a struggle. People shouldn’t let themselves be strung along with seductive lies about how the price can stably go back up, implicitly that there was never a bubble in the first place. There was. Eight trillion dollars worth. That $8 trillion is gone forever, as part of the inconceivable destruction of bubble wealth which has taken place. The only way they could “reflate” even a miniscule fraction of this would be through hyperinflation.
Strategically defaulting is and almost certainly will remain the best rational option for those suffering negative equity. Everything the system does is geared to obscuring that truth and saying “trust me.” We should know by now we can’t trust them. They don’t have our best interests at heart, and everything they say is a lie. 
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