Barack Obama has been busy cozying up to big business in the wake of his electoral victory in November, trying to mend fractured relations that saw Wall St and big industry put most of their money into Mitt Romney’s campaign. “I am passionately rooting for your success,” Obama said to a group of business leaders last week at a question-and-answer session at the Business Roundtable in Washington.
It’s slightly nauseating to watch Obama begging the business community for acceptance, but given the extraordinary hatred he has been subjected to by America’s wealthiest citizens, it’s not surprising. “You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world,” said Forbes 400 rich list member Leon Cooperman earlier this year. “Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied.” Cooperman, part of a Billionaire ‘Hate Club‘ saw Obama’s desire to see millionaires pay what they did under Bill Clinton as an affront to ‘wealth creators’ like himself and a turn towards socialism.
The poor relations between Obama and the mega wealthy is perplexing to say the least, given Obama has gone out of his way to ensure their needs have been well catered to. As Chrystia Freeland noted in a brilliant piece in the New Yorker in October of this year:
The growing antagonism of the super-wealthy toward Obama can seem mystifying, since Obama has served the rich quite well. His Administration supported the seven-hundred-billion-dollar TARP rescue package for Wall Street, and resisted calls from the Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and others on the left, to nationalize the big banks in exchange for that largesse. At the end of September, the S. & P. 500, the benchmark U.S. stock index, had rebounded to just 6.9 per cent below its all-time pre-crisis high, on October 9, 2007. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have found that ninety-three per cent of the gains during the 2009-10 recovery went to the top one per cent of earners. Those seated around the table at dinner with Al Gore had done even better: the top 0.01 per cent captured thirty-seven per cent of the total recovery pie, with a rebound in their incomes of more than twenty per cent, which amounted to an additional $4.2 million each.
The hatred felt from elites towards Obama is the symptom of a very serious cultural problem that has infected America in recent times and made economic progress incredibly difficult. That cultural problem is one of ideology – the ardent faith in markets that promotes self interest and greed as the main driving force behind economic growth. This makes reality increasingly difficult for people to understand as everything is always seen through the lenses of a predefined set of beliefs.
It is almost difficult to understand economic realities through the prism of ideology. From Marxism to Capitalism, ideologies set out the world as it should be – a socialistic paradise where mutualism and group solidarity increases productivity, or a individualistic utopia where self interest creates enormous material wealth for everyone. The problem is, human societies are far too complicated and erratic to responded docilely to imposed ideological structures, and understanding economic activity within them is as much an art as it is a science.
The Ayn Rand self interest model has been adopted by the economic elite for a simple reason; it justifies their position in society. Not only do they get to be wealthy beyond comprehension, they also get to be the saviors of society. It does not matter that much of their wealth has been built off the back of government investment and protection, and it does not matter that their continued existence is the result of a gigantic public bailout that propped up a crumbling system that was about to take down the entire global economy down.
To hedge fund billionaires like Cooperman, the wealthy are wealthy because they work harder than everyone else, and any attempt to get them to pay their fair share of taxes is akin to theft.
The problem with this model of self interest is that it completely discounts externalities that have disastrous effects on society. While Cooperman is raking in billions of dollars through his hedge fund, he pays no attention to the social havoc his investments can cause. Take for example, the debt crisis in Greece. Hedge funds have long been buying up Greek bonds at discount rates hoping to see a huge return for their buy-low-sell-high strategy. The problem is, as part of the EU bailout package, investors are being asked to take a hit along with the Greek public, and they won’t accept it, betting they will be able to suck up a big portion of the bailout money if they hold out. While poverty spirals out of control in Greece, the general population has little control over the bailout deal their government negotiates. But hedge fund managers do, and they are continuing to squeeze Greece in order to make their billions. Traditionally, if you make an investment and it doesn’t work out, you lose your money. But if you’re on Wall St, the government is there to ensure you make your money regardless of how bad an investment it was, and how badly it affects the people involved.
This is one small example, but every industry on the planet has some adverse effect on society in some way, and given the nature of many businesses, if left unchecked their behavior would be catastrophic for society (and in the case of Wall St, it already is). That’s why we have regulation, safety standards, and workers rights, because maximizing self interest doesn’t always create the best results for society in general. That’s not to say that a degree of self interest isn’t a good thing, it clearly is as there are many benefits to an incentivized market system, but it should not be the only principle guiding the way we organize our society.
President Obama has tried to argue for a shift away from the culture of pure self interest without ruffling too many feathers. He proposals to bring taxation in line with the Clinton era is hardly dramatic, yet Wall St and big business have reacted with exceptional viciousness. Obama is again going back to them and offering more concession – stroking their egos and begging for acceptance. As Zeke Miller writes in Buzzfeed:
Robert Wolf, a friend, bundler, and adviser to Obama and the former Chairman of UBS Americas, said the relationship between the business community and the White House is more robust now than at any point in the Obama presidency…..
Wolf said he is optimistic [on the new relationship between the Administration and big business].
“They’re not just talking fiscal cliff, they are talking about ways to make the us more competitive going into 2013 — things like immigration, education, corporate tax reform, and tax policy that the president is making a priority,” said Wolf. “They actually align very well with what the private sector wants to participate it.”
This type of deal making may be a political necessity for Obama going forward, but there’s one thing we can be sure of; it won’t be good for the American public.
Letter to a Non-Voter …from Michael Moore
Sunday, November 4th, 2012
To my friend who is not voting on Tuesday:
I get it – and I don’t blame you. You’re fed up and you could care less whether Tweedledee or Tweedledumber wins on Tuesday – because on Wednesday, your life will be the same, unchanged, regardless who is president. Your mortgage will still be underwater. You will still owe $50,000 on your student loan. Your son will still be in Afghanistan. Your daughter will still be working two jobs to make ends meet. And gas will still be at $4.
Four years ago you gave in and voted – and you voted for Obama. You wanted to believe he would go after the Wall Street crooks who crashed the economy – but instead the banks that were “too big to fail” four years ago are now even bigger and more dangerous. You thought there’d be universal health care – but the new law only went so far (with most of it not taking effect until 2014). You were tired of war and homeland security measures that violated our civil liberties – but we’re still in Afghanistan, we’re sending in drones to Pakistan and basic constitutional rights to privacy and a fair trial have been ignored. And you thought you’d have a middle-class, good-paying job like your dad had – but you didn’t know that Goldman Sachs was Obama’s #1 private campaign donor in 2008, and well, he was beholden to corporate America in more ways we cared to think about.
So, I get it why you’ve had it with all these politicians and elections. In the end, it doesn’t really seem to be our country any more. It’s run by those who can buy the most politicians to do their bidding. Our schools are made a low priority and women are still having to fight for just the basic human rights we thought they already had.
So, it’s hard for me to ask you for this very personal favor. It’s OK if you say “no,” but I’m hoping you don’t.
I cannot believe it is possible that, after a group of rich plutocrats wrecked the economy, threw people out of work and stole our future, we may actually hand the keys to our country over to…a rich Republican plutocrat who made millions by throwing people out of work! This is insane, and despite all the legitimate criticisms of Obama, he is nothing like the tsunami of hate and corporate thievery that will take place if Mitt Romney is president. As bad as it feels now, it will only get worse. I need your help to stop this.
I can’t promise you that your life will get better, easier under Barack Obama. I do think he cares and I know for sure that if the other guy is sitting in the Oval Office, I can guarantee you that not only will your life not get better, it will get much, much worse. Don’t take my word for it. Just ask your parents what life was like before a 30-year pillage by the Republicans of the middle class. Your parents bought a house and eventually owned it outright. They weren’t in debt. College was free. They bought a new car every 3 or 4 years. They took vacations and were home for dinner by 5 or 6 PM. They had a savings account in the bank. They didn’t live in fear of not knowing if they’d even have a job next year.
That’s all gone. I don’t know if we can get it back, but I do know that Mr. Romney would love the chance to complete the final elimination of the middle class and the American Dream.
He must be stopped. Take 20 minutes on Tuesday and go vote. If you don’t want to do it for your country, then do it for me! It’s the only favor I’ll ever ask of you.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I know that you care, and care deeply, about your future and your kids’ future. You have every right to be cynical about all this. And you hold the power to stop the bastards who plan on squeezing every last dime out of you that they can. Take a stand. And make a statement to those who are hoping against hope that you’ll stay home on Tuesday. Your presence at the polls is what they fear most.
Go scare the s**t out of them! For me.
Matt Taibbi and the Huffington Post’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin had a great discussion about Mitt Romney’s naked hypocrisy when it comes to the national debt. Taibbi pointed out that Romney’s entire career was built around loading companies up with debt then extracting as much value out of them as possible with no concern for their long term well being – the opposite philosophy he is espousing for political office. Check out the highlights of the conversation:
Romney preaches minimal spending and debt for government not because he genuinely believes in it, but because he wants to eradicate government programs that help people he doesn’t care about (the 47% he discussed in front of his rich friends last year). The relentless focus on government spending and debt isn’t born out of a real desire to ensure the survival of future generations as he so often claims on the campaign trail, it is born out of desire to ensure government works for people like himself – the rich and powerful. It should come as no surprise that Romney backed the Wall St bailout in 2008 – after all, his friends livelihoods were on the line. Of course Romney did not extend that empathy towards the automobile industry, a largely blue collar industry that he would not have regarded as equal in social value, and has had no time for welfare programs vital to the survival of the poor.
Romney understands the power of debt and how to use it – he made millions out of it in asset management and understood that for the economy to survive, it was vital to take on more debt in order to sustain the financial system. In Romney’s world, debt is good when rich people make money, but not when the poor stand to gain from it. And how does Romney deal with this seemingly obvious contradiction? Pretty easily – he lies about it.
Just to confuse everyone with more poll numbers, the race for the White House is looking decidedly close going into the final debate tonight. From the Guardian:
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows that after trailing Obama all year, Romney is now tied with him on 47% of the likely vote. The last WSJ/NBC poll, taken before the first presidential debate in which Romney dominated the president, had Obama ahead by 49% to 46%.
However, the polling maestro Nate Silver sees a fairly solid lead for the President when taking into account a wider array of tracking statistics:
Regardless of what the polls say, we know that the debates really are making a difference in this election – Romney got an enormous bounce after the first one, and Obama saved his campaign after the second – so the third installment will be worth tuning in to. The debate in Boca Raton, Florida will be devoted to foreign policy, a topic where Romney has shown serious weakness in the past, so it’s Obama’s to win.
Foreign policy debates in mainstream US politics is a pretty nauseating affair with candidates from both sides trying to ‘out American’ the other. The contest is basically a chest thumping exercise to determine who is the toughest, so we can expect Obama to mention killing Osama Bin Laden over and over again, and Romney to threaten Iran, China and Syria as many times as possible.
The interesting part of the debate will be about their stance on the Israeli and the supposed threat from Iran. You’ll have to read between the lines to figure out what they really mean, but expect the President to carefully argue that US foreign policy should not be outsourced to Israel and Iran should not be threatened unnecessarily, while Romney will attack Obama for ‘abandoning Israel’ and appearing weak on Iran. It’s a delicate balancing act for Obama who realizes he has to draw a distinction between the parties when it comes to foreign policy without looking weak to voters, many of whom believe he still might secretly be a Muslim (yes, it really does come down to that). Romney knows this of course and will look to overtly portray the President as an extremist sympathizer, particularly when it comes to the attacks in Benghazi.
Again, the debate will come down to performance, not substance so don’t expect facts to play a large part in it. For people outside the US, the whole debacle will seem completely ridiculous as both candidates will describe a world that doesn’t actually exist. No one believes America is genuinely under threat from Iran or any other country on the planet, and no one thinks Israel is behaving sanely when it comes to their treatment of the Palestinians. But in American political circles it is a given that Iran is on the verge of attacking the US with a home made nuclear weapon, and Israel is completely justified in its continued occupation of Palestinian territories.
I’m not looking forward to tonight as I find the distortions from both sides pretty outrageous, but it is important in terms of the race for the Presidency so I will be watching with interest.
We’ll be doing live coverage of the event 9pm ET/6pm PT, so tune in for the analysis.
By Ben Cohen: If you want to understand the type of country a politician wants to build, it is often a good idea to take a look into the life they built for themselves before stepping onto the national stage. Obviously it’s not the only indicator, but someone who has dedicated their life to public service would be more likely to have a more socially minded vision for the country as opposed to a businessman who has spent a lifetime dedicated to profit making.
Let’s take the two Presidential candidates this year. One of them, Barack Obama was a community organizer and a law professor, while the other, Mitt Romney worked exclusively in private equity and asset management.
During his tenure as President, Obama has to a degree reflected the life he led before coming into office. The President has fought to maintain the social safety net and provide support for the poorest people in America. His record on civil rights is not fantastic, but his commitment to using what is left of government to do good from an economic standpoint is fairly clear. He passed the stimulus package, reformed health care and extended unemployment, all in the face of an opposition that did everything in its power to stop him.
Mitt Romney on the other hand has spent most of his adult life making extraordinary amounts of money through private equity, and a short spell in government passing tax cuts for the wealthy.
The picture is obviously more complicated than this – Obama’s record on standing up to Wall St is pretty desultory and his policy is certainly not reflective of his social background or rhetoric, and Romney passed a widely praised health care plan in Massachusetts that did benefit the economically disadvantaged.
But as a whole, the difference is pretty clear – at least for office in 2012. The community organizer from a disadvantaged background is running on a platform to help the poor and middle classes, while the private equity rich kid is running on a platform to almost exclusively cater to the rich at the expense of everyone else.
If you look more closely at Mitt Romney’s professional background, a very disturbing picture emerges. Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece in Rolling Stone takes a good stab at trying to understand Romney’s pre-political life and his world view, and it’s a pretty frightening account of his life as a modern capitalist titan. Writes Taibbi:
Romney was a prime mover in the radical social and political transformation that was cooked up by Wall Street beginning in the 1980s. In fact, you can trace the whole history of the modern age of financialization just by following the highly specific corner of the economic universe inhabited by the leveraged buyout business, where Mitt Romney thrived. If you look at the number of leveraged buyouts dating back two or three decades, you see a clear pattern: Takeovers rose sharply with each of Wall Street’s great easy-money schemes, then plummeted just as sharply after each of those scams crashed and burned, leaving the rest of us with the bill.
In the Eighties, when Romney and Bain were cutting their teeth in the LBO business, the primary magic trick involved the junk bonds pioneered by convicted felon Mike Milken, which allowed firms like Bain to find easy financing for takeovers by using wildly overpriced distressed corporate bonds as collateral. Junk bonds gave the Gordon Gekkos of the world sudden primacy over old-school industrial titans like the Fords and the Rockefellers: For the first time, the ability to make deals became more valuable than the ability to make stuff, and the ability to instantly engineer billions in illusory financing trumped the comparatively slow process of making and selling products for gradual returns.
Romney basically helped pioneer a horrific form of vulture capitalism that saw financial trickery and leverage as legitimate ways of creating inordinate amounts of wealth through massive amounts of debt. The trick at Bain was to buy companies with other people’s money, load them with debt, then get out before the house burnt down with a massive pay off for themselves. It worked brilliantly – at least for Romney and his fellow finance pals – but not so much for the companies that were often left crippled by the deals they made. As Jesse Eisinger at ProPublicanotes:
The Wall Street Journal found that many of the businesses Bain bought went bust, even when Bain reaped big financial wins. The paper analyzed 77 businesses Bain invested in while Mr. Romney led the firm from its 1984 start until early 1999, finding that 22 percent either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested. An additional 8 percent ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost. .
It is stunning that a candidate running almost exclusively on reducing the deficit spent a lifetime accumulating debt for other people then walking away as they crumbled underneath it. But no matter for Romney who has always emerged unscathed from the looting his company engaged in. He’s a multi millionaire, and proof at least in his own head that anyone can make it in America.
Mitt Romney is running on a platform to codify this type of vulture capitalism, and astonishingly, he picked a running mate even more extreme than him. Writes Ezra Klein:
In picking Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has doubled down on his own campaign promise to give big tax breaks to the wealthy, uniting himself with a candidate who goes even further to do so: While Romney would bring taxes for top incomes down to 28 percent, Ryan has proposed bringing the top rate down even lower, to 25 percent. Meanwhile, Ryan’s plan would actually increase the effective tax rate on the very poorest Americans by getting rid of tax breaks that benefit low earners.
So this is the world envisioned by Romney and his side kick Ryan – a bleak, cutthroat society where the poor are left to fend for themselves and the rich given more power and control over everyone’s lives with the explicit protection of the federal government. Says Taibbi:
Obama ran on “change” in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, and Cayman Islands partnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It’s a vision of society that’s crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it’s running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender.
Yes, Bill Clinton gave a phenomenal speech at the Democratic Convention last week, and yes, he fired up the base and provided immeasurable help to Barack Obama’s campaign. But the theme of Clinton’s speech was “Republicans created the mess we’re in, and only Democrats can fix it”. Sadly, this isn’t technically true. As Robert Scheer points out:
Do those convention delegates, and the fawning media that were wowed by the former president’s rhetorical seductions, not recall that just before he left office Clinton signed off on the game-changing legislation that ended the sensible rules imposed on Wall Street during the Great Depression? It was Clinton who cooperated with the Republicans in reversing the legacy of FDR’s New Deal, opening the floodgates of unfettered avarice that almost drowned the world’s economy during the reign of George W. Bush.
How convenient to ignore the Financial Services Modernization Act, which Clinton signed into law to summarily end the Glass-Steagall barrier against the commingling of investment and commercial banking. Do the Democrats not remember that Citigroup, the first too-big-to-fail bank made legal by the law Clinton signed, became the $15 million employer of Robert Rubin, the Clinton treasury secretary who led the fight for the law that legalized the creation of Citigroup? Or that Citigroup—led by Sanford Weill, to whom Clinton gave one of the souvenir pens he used to approve that onerous legislation—went on to be a major player in the subprime mortgage swindles and had to be bailed out with more than $50 billion of taxpayer funds?
It’s easy to get caught up in the election hullabaloo, pick sides then cheer lead your candidate as if they could do no wrong. But that’s not defensible from an intellectual or moral point of view. Clinton was instrumental in creating the foundations for the economic meltdown in 2008 – a fact he is no doubt aware of. It’s good that Clinton has come back on the side of sanity and advocates the intelligent regulation of Wall St, but his glossing over of his record is pretty shameless.
By Phil Rockstroh: A couple of decades ago, upon returning to Atlanta, Georgia, after spending a year abroad, I would frequent an independent bookshop that contained a small coffee shop/cafe, where I would sip tea, read books and periodicals, and engage in the nearly extinct art of long form face-to-face verbal discourse with other habituates of the cafe. To this day, I have long standing friendships with a number of people I came to know during those years.
Yet even then, I noticed how the atomization inherent to the internalization of the corporate state (the manner that the domination of commercial and work space had all but eliminated the public commons) had diminished so many people’s ability to converse on all but the most superficial level.
Any invocation to deepen conversation or an assertion that arrived outside of the realm of status quo consensus caused all too many to simply go haywire. People checked out, went blank, testiness ensued. … Comfort zones were mobilized for a siege. The space between people became a no man’s land, stippled with a minefield of sensitivities.
In short, approaching life and one’s fellows from a mode of mind evincing aspects of the human condition that existed outside the realm of workplace expediency and consumer desire had been diminished to the point of being rendered all but absent. People seemed adrift — bereft of the ability to cohabit public space. The will towards communal engagement had atrophied.
Essential qualities — traits that are uniquely human — had been lost. A wasteland of fragmented discourse and inarticulate rage howled between us.
And the situation has only degraded since that time. Unless communal space can be reclaimed and our innate humanity re-established, to paraphrase Kafka: There is infinite hope but not for us.
After decades of economic decline, the loss of public commons, the emotional blowback of the militarist brutality required to sustain empire and the effects of social atomization and mass media-borne insularity — the act of engaging in fruitful, democratic discourse, with all too many of the people of the U.S., without evoking angst, anger and a host of demented fantasies, has become increasingly unlikely.
“Awake we share the world; sleeping each turns to his private world.” — Heraclitus
Exploitative social arrangements, throughout history, carry this circumstance in common: A citizenry too beaten down, harried, and/or prideful to recognize they have been swindled by a corrupt elite.
Due to an indifference to outright hostility towards gaining awareness as to what forces create their degraded situation, the swindle will penetrate the populace to the bone; will become part of its (social and individual) DNA. To apprehend the reality of the situation would, seemingly, tear those afflicted asunder on a molecular level.
Once you have allowed the swindle to permeate your being — taking back your life must become the driving force of your existence. If you don’t recapture the landscape of your own soul, then your life will be comprised of a dance with dust and ash.
Do not underestimate the power of the seeds of awakening that sleep within you. Yet, do not be naive in regard to the knowledge that, all to often, all too many will choose not to cultivate their potential for humanity, and thus will yield a bitter harvest of pettiness, spite, cupidity and cruelty.
At times, even in seemingly mundane moments, the air is plangent with a silent scream of terror. Yet, we go on, as if we hear nothing. We continue to make small talk. Wander to the refrigerator when not particularly hungry. Fumble for the TV remote. In reality, those are the times that try men’s souls. And we are found wanting.
More often than not, the face of oppression is fronted by a facile smile and rewards you for your complicity by proffering piffling bribes.
The comfort zones of the checked-out, distracted, self-involved citizens of empire are perched upon a mountain of corpses. When the agendas of a culture are circumscribed to merely selfish agendas and empty appetites — compulsive materialism, militarist aggression, bigotry cloaked as religious conviction — the world seems to wend towards wasteland.
In such times, where can sanctuary be sought? Both within and by risking casting oneself towards the beating heart of the soul of life. Human beings contain deep reservoirs of empathy, a capacity for apprehending the sacred, and the ability to love. Deep wells of redemption pool beneath the wasteland. The human heart is a divining rod that helps one locate the source of the healing waters of life.
Recently, I was asked online: Where was God when seven human beings of the Sikhi faith were gunned down, on Aug. 5, in their place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? A more pertinent question might be — as long as one possesses a desire to make inquiries into the whereabouts of invisibles — where is the nation’s collective humanity?
Will we continue to banish it by escape into distraction, denial and fantasy i.e., refusing to look deeply into ourselves and the social conditions and attendant mindsets that engender a perpetual reign of violence.
There was a god (metaphysically) present at the scene of this latest shooting rampage. The God all too many Americans revere and look to for guidance: The God of Death.
Are the people of the U.S. at this stage of the entropic decline of late empire, even capable of the type of collective introspection necessary to come to an understanding that something is fundamentally wrong with our concept of culture?
The problem of evil is far from cut and dry: both good and evil are interwoven into the souls of every person on the planet. Any attempt to wholly decimate evil would destroy what is good within us as well.
The best we can do is … is to do our utmost to discern the evil dwelling within us on an individual basis, and moment by moment, attempt to channel our actions — by harnessing the cold, powerful, impersonal energies of evil — towards things that are warm, personal and life-enhancing. Such acts serve as an anti-evil repellant.
Conversely, viewing life as a struggle of good versus evil is intoxicating, and, like most intoxicants, can prove addictive. Yet the essence of a human being cannot be pigeonholed, cannot be limned by labeling; within each of us, dwell multiple and manifold legacies, familial and cultural, that have imprinted our character and serve as the progenitors of our actions.
Yet the notion of pure good and pure evil grip our imaginations; the image of yellow eyed, ungulate, and glowering Satan or beatified and risen Mary, Mother of God appeal to us because their existence promises to liberate us from the mundane, to deliver us from the mire of ambiguity, from our daily servitude to implacable necessity.
An open heart is a vulnerable heart. Therefore, some prefer to fortify themselves with a bristling bulwark of self-protective, nuance-evading prejudgments. A flight of hatred can serve to mitigate the uncertainty inherent to a commitment to love. An individual can limn their life with enmity’s broad, thrashing brushstrokes — a Jackson Pollock drip/splatter of animus.
Propelling one past angst-inducing nuance and complexity, hate, masked as purity, can carry us. After a time, its monolithic shadow becomes inseparable from one’s own. When one stabs at the perceived darkness of an enemy, one wounds oneself.
Confused, enveloped by one’s own darkness, a person can come to believe the blow was delivered by a foe. Thus, all too often, one will hate what is different, seeing that difference as being a threat. In this way, irrational, self awareness-devoid hatred threatens all near it.
The machinations of Power have entered a new phase: a full-spectrum counterfeiting of the images of the soul … that rise like a fever dream from the abysmal, group-mind of late-stage capitalism.
In this age, there is no need for thronging mobs, foisting banners and carrying blazing torches through the central squares of contemporary cities, as occurred in 1930s Germany and Italy, because every sofa has become a 24/7 Nuremberg Rally; every mass media device enables an instant immersion in the mob.
Führers and Generalissimos have been rendered obsolete, because we have little, virtual versions of the strutting breed on Reality Television; no need for serried ranks of jut-jawed brownshirts, when we have become storm troopers, ourselves, marching in a mindless parade of endless distraction. All as the sky burns and oceans seethe acidity.
The fact that so many U.S. citizens continue to believe that they inhabit a democratic nation, devoted to the concept of freedom of speech, of the press, and of free assembly reveals something very troubling: that the internalization of the tacit tenets of the corporatist state (a mutant strain of classic fascism) is now embedded so deeply in the collective psyche of the U.S. populace, and has rendered all too many with only a cursory, at best, understanding of what civil liberties involve.
Withal, it is not possible to grieve (or become outraged at) the loss of something one has no concept of ever having existed in the first place. How is it possible for one who has spent his entire lifetime in a windowless prison to know the grief experienced by fellow inmates who have known the beauty beheld when viewing the prismatic light of a dawning day?
Those who have encased themselves in a self-referential bubble of rationalization, by reflex, dismiss the assertion that complicity in an odious system (such as a blood-sustained, militarist empire) amounts to silent affirmation of the harm the system (although nebulous in nature) reaps. By doing so, they unwittingly exact punishment upon themselves.
Such unfortunate souls continue to exist. Yet to exist in such a manner, one must circumvent one’s senses and blinker the life of the mind, thereby becoming like a caged wild animal that, as the years have passed, has forgotten what its true nature is, because its essential self has atrophied into mere mind-numbing subsistence.
What kind of a life is this, you may well ask? But you already know the answer: It is no life.
There exists one requisite trait needed to face evil: The knowledge of one’s own capacity for embodying the trait. Inseparable, treachery and redemption arrive together. The human heart, capable of both cruelty and kindness, provides the arena where one’s better nature might gain the upper hand against one’s destructive inclinations.
And this is precisely why I eschew being a “pragmatic” predator drone-apologist liberal or a purity-swooning conservative: A compulsion towards partisanship serves to censor the disorderly dialog of the heart, and thus compels one to remain locked within an ego-fortified structure of imprisoning platitudes and self-serving rationalizations.
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: email@example.com Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com / And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh
Matt Taibbi has a good point when it comes to attacking Romney for apparently not paying any taxes (a fact yet to be proved):
What they [the Democrats] should be doing instead is hammering Romney on the missing returns, yes, but focusing even more on the returns he did release. We’ve known for seven months now, for instance, that Romney paid $3 million in federal taxes in 2010 on $21.7 million in taxable revenue, an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent. Which, as most people know, is less than half the rate most people pay on their income tax.
When Romney released these numbers, he said they were “entirely legal and fair,” and added, “I’m proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes.”
The Romney tax returns are a prime example of our increasingly two-tiered bureaucratic system, in which there is one set of rules for poor and middle-class people, and another set of rules for people like Mitt Romney.
And sadly, Taibbi is probably right about why Obama isn’t:
Barack Obama is one of the few politicians with the communication skills to explain this to middle America, but he’s refusing to go there, probably because he’s still hoping for a post-election rapprochement with Wall Street. He wants to go after Bain Capital, but not private equity in general; he wants to go after Mitt Romney’s missing tax returns, but not the tax returns of all people like Mitt Romney.
I posted about this earlier today where I argued we’re unlikely to see the Democrats make much real movement on the tax code or financial regulation, because in reality, it’s politically suicidal. No Wall St or rich people backing, no Presidency.
By Mark Ames and Yasha Levine: Adam Davidson graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in religion, and began his public radio career selling airtime and doing sponsor outreach. He then became an on-air radio personality, filing pro-Iraq War dispatches as Marketplace’s Middle East correspondent, and recently transformed himself into an effective propagandist for the banking industry. Over the years, Davidson has whitewashed the occupation of Iraq, praised sweatshop labor, attacked the idea of regulating Wall Street and argued for “squeezing the middle class”–all while taking undisclosed money from banking interests. No wonder Davidson shamelessly credited Wall Street for providing “just about anything that makes you happy.”
The Recovered History of Adam Davidson
- Davidson began working in public radio in 1992, doing “underwriting sales” for Chicago Public Radio, a position described by one public radio station as “equivalent to that of a sales manager at private stations. This person must go out into the community and establish rapport with local businesses in order to sell airtime to them. The underwriting representative is then responsible for developing a direct . . . and informational message to put on the air for the client.”
- Adam Davidson spent the early 2000s as Middle East correspondent for Public Radio International’s Marketplace. In the lead up to the Iraq War, Davidson filed a number of pieces promoting the invasion of Iraq; after the invasion, Davidson moved to Baghdad and filed numerous radio items whitewashing the occupation catastrophe.
- In December 2002, Davidson positively profiled an Israeli right-wing conspiracy theory site Debka.com in order to promote the invasion of Iraq. Despite the fact that Debka.com was long ago discredited in Israel, where “not a single Israeli official…sees the site as a reliable source”–and despite Debka.com’s ties to rightwing conspiracy theory site WorldNet Daily, nevertheless Davidson presented Debka’s claims that Saddam had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction–including chemical, biological and nuclear–as credible. Davidson staked his own credibility defending Debka, telling NPR listeners: “There’s really no way to confirm what they’re reporting right now, but I’ve been reading the site for years, and it’s common to think they’re nuts, then to wait a few weeks and see the same information in The New York Times.” As it turned out, Saddam did not possess weapons of mass destructions of any kind. In 2007, Davidson’s beloved Debka.com created a panic in New York City after publishing false rumors of an impending Al Qaeda dirty bomb attack.
- In February 2003, just a few weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Davidson found a couple of Iraqi merchants living in Jordan who were in favor of the coming invasion, telling Davidson’s listeners that the invasion would do wonders for Iraq’s economy. “Mohammed,” one of the merchants, told Davidson: “I’m very optimistic about the economy of Iraq.” The war decimated Iraq’s economy, destroyed its infrastructure and was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
- Davidson then moved to Baghdad and went to work whitewashing the brutality and violence of the war and occupation. In a 2004 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Adam Davison claimed that American military violence played no part in Iraqi anger at the occupation, and suggested that Americans hadn’t committed serious violence of any sort. Instead, Davidson argued that the reason the U.S. wasn’t winning the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi people was because America had not successfully rooted out Saddam-era corruption. “It’s common to hear Iraqis say the U.S. regime is just like Hussein’s. At first, I found this bizarre. The U.S. is not hacking the ears off of innocent people. The U.S. isn’t massacring entire villages. But I learned that when Iraqis make the Hussein comparison, they’re talking, in large part, about corruption.” By focusing on Saddam-era corruption, Davidson made it seem as though the problem in Iraq was that Iraq wasn’t Americanized enough, rather than the violence of the American invasion and occupation.
- After living in Baghdad for a year, Davidson had to suddenly flee the country in 2004, fearing for his life after being accused of working for the CIA. Later, Davidson admitted that he had a tight and undisclosed relationship with occupation officials, who regularly visited his Baghdad home and revealed to Davidson that the situation was much worse than was being reported. Rather than telling his listeners as a journalist should, Davidson protected the occupation authorities: “The ones I liked I’d invite over to the house. I mean, I genuinely liked them, but also we’d get them a little drunk on wine. We’d tell them, hey, tonight everything’s off the record. And we’d get real information...we’d get these people over to our house, they’d have some wine, and they’d be like, ‘oh, it’s so much worse than you know.’”
- In 2006, now working at NPR as a business reporter, Davidson criticized the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, legislation passed in the wake of Enron to tighten corporate financial accountability and make top executives criminally liable for fraud happening under their watch. “The U.S. has a bunch of crazy rules that came out of a time of hysteria in the U.S. They don’t make any sense,” Davidson told listeners. This was part of a larger push by Wall Street and corporate interests to gut Sarbanes-Oxley. Among those pushing the same PR line against Sarbanes-Oxley as Davidson were Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation and even Charles Koch himself. [ 1 ]
- In 2007, Davidson boosted for the Honduran sweatshop industry, and promoted sweatshop labor in general, which he said was a great opportunity offering women upward mobility. Making socks in a sweatshop is “the only way she can improve her life,” Davidson said of one Honduran young woman he profiled for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He did not mention that Honduran sweatshop workers routinely develop incapacitating back and spinal injuries working 12-hour shifts with little or no breaks, face workplace abuse and intimidation, and earn about 65 cents per hour. Meanwhile the CEO of Gildan, a Canadian garment company doing business in Honduras that Davidson praised in his program, took home $11 million in compensation in 2009.
- In 2012, Davidson promoted an even more extreme version of the Honduran sweatshop: special extra-judicial sweatshop zones legally beyond Honduran constitutional and labor laws, where multinationals could tap cheap labor, and use their own police force and judicial systems. The extra-judicial business zones, the brainchild of University of Chicago-trained economist Paul Romer, have been denounced as “neo-colonial” and have attracted the interest of Milton Friedman’s libertarian grandson, Patri Friedman, along with other libertarians hostile to labor rights. Davidson dismissed critics of the Honduras extra-judicial sweatshop zones: “It’s easy to criticize experimenting with the livelihoods of the poor,” Davidson wrote. “We have to try some new things, probably many new things. And we have to accept that some of them won’t work.”
- In 2008, Davidson helped produce an episode of This American Life about the implosion of subprime lending that let Wall Street off the hook for its role in rampant mortgage fraud and predatory lending. “This was a crisis that was caused by willing participation of every single person. Nobody was coerced,” said Davidson’s co-producer Alex Blumberg. “And there was fraud. But that was not what caused the crisis. What caused the crisis was something bigger and more systemic that required the involvement of everybody at every step.” This evasion-by-exaggerating-the-complexity strategy is one that Davidson and Planet Money have deployed often to whitewash and deflect the role of criminality in the housing crisis. Among the show’s fans was Treasury Secretary and former New York Federal Reserve Bank chief Timothy Geithner: “Yeah, they did a good job.”
- In September 2008, Davidson falsely claimed that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act played no role whatsoever in the financial collapse: “Every economist I’ve spoken with says, simply, that it was a bad law but that it and its repeal are not really to blame for what is happening now.” Many key figures involved in Glass-Steagall’s repeal, including former Citigroup chief Sandy Weill, have contradicted Davidson’s false claim.
- In early 2009, NPR announced that Planet Money secured Ally Bank as the show’s exclusive sponsor. It was an unusual set up for NPR, as it meant that a financial institution was the sole funder of a news program about finance. At the time, Planet Money was the only NPR program underwritten by a single exclusive sponsor. Even Ad Age, the advertising industry’s trade publication, was surprised by the sponsorship arrangement and the “close alignment of message and news program.” (At the time of this writing, Ally is still Planet Money’s exclusive sponsor.)
- Ally Bank is a subsidiary of Ally Financial, formerly known as GMAC. The bank is one of the biggest mortgage servicers in the country, and has been one of the very worst offenders in foreclosure fraud and subprime fraud. It received more than $17 billion taxpayer bailout funds and has been investigated across the country for foreclosure fraud, robo-signing and student loan fraud. As of August 1, 2012, 74% of Ally Financial was still owned by the U.S. Government. [ 2 ]
- Planet Money’s relationship with Ally is a textbook example of “conflict of interest.” The bank had a clear and demonstrable interest in Planet Money’s coverage of the financial industry, especially issues that affected the bank’s bottom line. As Planet Money’s sole sponsor at a time when NPR funds were falling, Ally obviously wielded considerable power. Following months of complaints from readers pointing to the conflict-of-interest and the way Planet Money’s segments dovetailed with the banking lobby’s own propaganda, NPR’s Ombudsman was forced to look into the Ally-Planet Money relationship. The NPR Ombudsman ultimately dismissed listeners’ concerns as “cynical” and implied they did not know what they were talking about. Despite Davidson’s experience in public radio underwriting, he claimed ignorance about the nature of Planet Money’s arrangement with its sole sponsor, Ally Bank: “I have nothing to do with the underwriting stuff. We don’t pay any attention to the fact that they are a sponsor. We wouldn’t for a second give them any special treatment — positive or negative.”
- In 2009, while Ally Financial (then still known as GMAC) was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against the Financial Consumer Protection Agency Act of 2009, Davidson aired a number of segments critical of the legislation. He questioned the need to regulate consumer financial products like mortgages and credit cards in order to protect people against bank fraud. “Will it work at all?” he wondered on air, and asked: “is this just one more layer of regulation in a regulatory system that fundamentally broke down?” [ 3 ]
- In May 2009, Davidson launched a bizarre personal attack while interviewing Elizabeth Warren, the chief architect of the financial consumer protection bill. Davidson surprised Warren and his own listeners with uncharacteristic personal smears, trying to portray her as a clueless, power-hungry ideologue: “The view that the American family, that you hold very powerfully, is fully under assault . . . that is not accepted broad wisdom. . . . I literally don’t know who else I can talk to support that view. I literally don’t know anyone other than you who has that view, and you are the person [snicker] who went to Congress to oversee it and you are presenting a very, very narrow view to the American people.” The Columbia Journalism Review described the interview as a “disaster” and “really cringeworthy stuff from Davidson,” who was so rude and unprofessional that NPR’s Ombudsman had to step in and apologize for his behavior. Davidson’s excuse: he had been traveling for a NPR fundraiser and was “very, very tired.” [ 4 ] [ 5 ]
- Listen to Davidson’s full interview with Warren here:
- Adam Davidson does not disclose that he does paid speaking gigs at events funded by banks and financial companies, including J.P. Morgan, Well Fargo, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs–the same companies he covers as a journalist. Davidson is frequently the only journalist/reporter booked to speak at these events; other speakers are usually work in finance. (See top of left sidebar for detailed info on Davidson’s recent speaking engagements.)
- In 2011, Davidson expanded his media presence with a weekly financial column in the New York Times Magazine. His first column argued that government can’t create jobs, and so politicians shouldn’t try to come up with “job plans”–a demonstrably false position that also happens to be shared by Koch-funded libertarian Cato Institute. In his second column, Davidson pushed for harsh austerity measures against the majority of Americans in order to benefit the financial sector: “It really stinks, but the only way to fix the economy is to squeeze the middle class.“
- In 2012, Davidson argued that everyone should grovel before Wall Street, without which, he argued, America would be much poorer. Davidson’s pro-Wall Street propaganda was so crude that even fellow neoliberal Matthew Yglesias stepped in to criticize Davidson: “I’m generally an Adam Davidson fan, but his recent New York Times Magazine article in defense of Wall Street is pretty unconvincing. The big problem is right up there in the lede where he says ‘Perhaps the best way to really appreciate what Wall Street does is to imagine life without it.’”
- On May 1 2012, Davidson published a flattering profile of Edward Conard, Mitt Romney’s former business partner at Bain Capital, as a way of promoting more worship of the rich: “Conard . . . has laid out tightly argued case for just how much consumers actually benefit from the wealthy,” Davidson wrote, as he uncritically reported Conard’s claim that inequality “is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off.” Yves Smith, of Naked Capitalism, described the article as “chock full of blatant falsehoods” among which were Davidson’s claim that penicillin was made possible by investment capital from hedge fund managers like Conard. In fact penicillin research was funded by the British and U.S. governments.
- Two weeks later, on May 16, Davidson spoke at the 27th Annual Conference for the Treasury & Finance Professional. Bank of America, BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Bloomberg, Citibank, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Well Fargo and about a dozen of the most powerful financial companies in the world sponsored the event.
Adam Davidson’s career is currently being funded by bailed out banks. On top of Ally Bank’s exclusive sponsorship of Planet Money, Davidson receives lucrative speaking fees for appearing at events funded by the same banks and financial companies he covers as a journalist. Davidson has yet to disclose his corporate clients and how much they pay him, but here is a partial list of Davidson’s gigs from the last two years compiled from various publicly available sources:
- In April 2011, Davidson was the headlining speaker at the 9th Annual “Women’s World Banking” Microfinance and the Capital Markets Conference. The conference was hosted by J.P. Morgan, but the organization itself is funded by the world’s biggest banks and corporations, including BP, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Barclays Capital, VISA, ExxonMobil–just to name a few.
- In 2011, Davidson spoke at another microfinance conference, this once was also funded by Morgan Stanley, Citi, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and CapitalOne.
- In 2012, Davidson spoke at the 27th Annual Conference for the Treasury & Finance Professional. Sponsors of the event included Bank of America, BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Bloomberg, Citibank, Findelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Well Fargo and about a dozen of the most powerful financial the largest financial companies in the world.
Chicago Public Media, which co-owns “Planet Money” through its ownership of “This American Life”, explicitly bars conflicts-of-interest: “WBEZ journalists must uphold the trust of the public by not overlapping individual interests with professional responsibilities. WBEZ journalists may not accept any form of compensation from the individuals, institutions or organizations they cover.”
Note: Neither NPR nor This American Life have responded to S.H.A.M.E.’s requests for comment about Davidson’s conflicts of interest.
Planet Money’s Ally Problem
Ally Bank has been Planet Money’s exclusive sponsor since 2009, a relationship that provides a textbook example of conflict of interest. Below are two screenshots of Ally Bank advertisements running on Planet Money’s website:
Davidson’s Shame Quotes
I feel like the voice of business journalism is sort of, it’s an authoritative voice of God.
–Davidson in a 2009 interview with Nieman Journalism Lab
The last time I interacted with University of Chicago faculty in an extended way, they were my professors. Sitting on a stage as their ‘peer,’ I felt like a kid who had borrowed his dad’s suit.
–Davidson describes his reaction to being invited to talk about the “unintended consequences” of financial regulation at Chicago University’s 58th Annual Management Conference in April 2010
Raising [corporate taxes], or even maintaining them, might satisfy the anti-corporate angst of protesters and populists, but it won’t come anywhere near paying off our debt. Most people who study the issue agree that the top federal corporate tax rate (35 percent of profits) is simply too high. The cardinal rule of taxation is that whatever you put a levy on, you’ll inevitably get less of.
–Davidson’s “It’s Not Just About the Millionaires”; New York Times Magazine; November 2011
Davidson’s PR Strategies
Every economist I’ve spoken with says, simply, that it was a bad law but that it and its repeal are not really to blame for what is happening now.
–Davidson’s NPR segment “Can We Blame Or Praise Glass-Steagall?”
Most people who study the issue agree that the top federal corporate tax rate (35 percent of profits) is simply too high.
–Davidson on why U.S. should lower corporate taxes
I talk to a lot a lot a lot of left, right, center, neutral economists [and] you are the only person I’ve talked to in a year of covering this crisis who has a view that we have two equally acute crises: a financial crisis and a household debt crisis that is equally acute in the same kind of way.
–Davidson during his attack on Elizabeth Warren
- Malcolm Gladwell made a similar claim in a 2007 New Yorker article that defended Enron. Read Gladwell’s S.H.A.M.E. Report for more info. [↩]
- See Naked Capitalism’s coverage of GMAC/Ally’s mortgage fraud. [↩]
- GMAC’s total lobbying on finance-related bills in 2009 added up to $1.2 mil. See GMAC’s page on OpenSecrets.org for more information. [↩]
- NPR did not respond to S.H.A.M.E.’s requests for comment about Davidson’s conflicts of interest. [↩]
- Read Corrente’s transcript of Davidson’s Elizabeth Warren interview. [↩]
This article was originally published on The Exiled