Adding Pikes and Tumbrils to the Populist Arsenal

by matttbastard

Hilzoy sharpens her pitchfork (what? Hil so owns a pitchfork — and, from what I’ve heard, has quite the loverly garden) and pins the AIG bonus issue–and out-of-touch Wall Street execs—to the wall:

[T]he real issue isn’t bonuses. It’s your compensation, period. It’s the fact that, after doing your very best to wreck the world economy, you regard yourselves as entitled to levels of compensation that people who actually make things can only fantasize about. The bonus part is just the icing on the cake.

Oddly, though, the idea that bonuses have something to do with performance isn’t limited to us outsiders. The WSJ article also contains this gem:

“Under the forthcoming rules, bonuses could come to no more than one-third of the total annual compensation paid to employees covered by the restrictions. Some compensation experts view the bonus limits as a mistake that turns the notion of pay for performance on its head, despite Wall Street’s culpability for the recession and credit crisis.”

Oh noes! We can’t have the notion of pay for performance turned on its head! Not on Wall Street!

[...]

As someone who thinks that levels of compensation in the US are absurdly unequal, and that this is bad for the country, it’s tempting to say: oh, go ahead, you idiots. Keep your sense of entitlement to other people’s money. Make people come after you with pikes and tumbrils. See if I care.

The thing is, I don’t think that rage normally leads to good policy. (Though, as I’ve said before, I really believe that it would help a lot with moral hazard if people found the experience of having the government bail out their firms profoundly unpleasant.) And I’m sure that my inner policy wonk will shortly regain control. Still, at the moment, it’s awfully tempting. I think of people I’ve known who have worked hard all their lives for not very much money, only to be completely bankrupted by unforeseen medical catastrophes, and I imagine these people being asked to support investment bankers in the style to which they have become accustomed, and fury feels like exactly the right response.”

Here’s hoping Hil’s inner policy wonk doesn’t regain control any time soon — she definitely needs to include the phrase “pikes and tumbrils” in more posts.

h/t Sarah (who has a must-read piece over at GC on growing public fury with AIG –GO!!!)

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Read This Now: “To be active is the difference between freedom and submission.”

by matttbastard

Renee brings the awesome with this passionate, inspiring must-read post on patriarchy, culture, and ‘the cycle of victimology':

While I am certainly not in the position to judge another on the coping mechanisms which they employ to survive our racist, patriarchal culture, I do know that we need to be conscious of why we take on certain labels and how the interpretations of others impacts our decisions.  Allowing another to discern and control what the issues that effect our lives  entail is nothing more than a form of submission in the guise of owning victimology.

We are more than what someone does to us.  Each day when we wake, we make small decisions that have the potential to lead to great change.  It is because we have been understood as powerless that these actions continually fail to merit the respect that they deserve.  We can actively choose not to participate in conversations in which we have been declared unwelcome, or we can kick the door down and demand our voices be heard.  This is not the action of a militant, but the actions of a person that refuses to be the eternal victim so that others may patronize our struggle.  To be active is the difference between freedom and submission.

DJ rewind:

We are more than what someone does to us.

Yes, that.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.

Go on, read it.

Now.

Go.

h/t Sarah

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.

Sharpening the Pitchfork

by matttbastard

Oh FFS, part deux:

“Last February, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune wrote on the Huffington Post, ‘For the mega-rich, recession brings with it the ability to live well at a lower cost and with less of a hassle.’

In Decemeber, Arianna Huffington’s daughter Christina came out at New York’s International Debutante Ball.* The organizer’s justification for the $14000 a table event: ‘Watches cost more.'”

Watches.

Cost.

More.

Buh?!

Ok, not to get all class war and shit, but. a FUCKING COMING OUT PARTY IN 2009 DURING A FUCKING RECESSION?! You know what? Fuck it — Sarah, via email (h/t), is absolutely fucking correct:

[T]hat’s exactly when we need to get all class war. Right now, when even my Republican parents are pissed about bailouts and CEO pay.

I mean,  an asymmetrical class war has already been going on for too fucking long (Tax cuts! Welfare reform! Deregulation!), only with hostilities coming from the top down–and they’ve been kicking our fucking asses. With all that wealth still concentrated at the VERY top,  it’s about goddamn time the little people finally started fighting back. Because it really, really says something that some people (even nominal progressives ) still have the fucking stones to throw $14,000/plate debutante balls during the worst economic crisis since the Great fucking Depression.

That’s it — I’m fucking done taking hunks of cake without question and pretending to like the taste. Time to import a non-violent modern variation of the French Revolution to North America post-fucking-haste.

*[insert tart observation about how not paying your writers really helps with the bottom line -- and the coming out party expenses.]

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Shorter Rick Santelli: “My wife feels you’re glib, Matt.”

by matttbastard

The preceding exchange–especially Dylan Ratigan’s asinine contention that Rick Santelli is “channeling an emotion that everyone in America is feeling”–ties in with what Glenn Greenwald was saying the other day about how the Beltway press corps is still obsessed with transmitting and furthering GOP talking points in the name of some mythical ‘bipartisanship’,  basically making shit up about public opinion, regardless of all evidence to the contrary:

The political establishment has never come to terms with, and the media establishment just refuses to acknowledge, how deeply unpopular and discredited the GOP is among most Americans in the wake of the eight-year Bush disaster.  Political and media elites don’t want to acknowledge that because they lent their continuous support for eight years to Republican power, yet — even with Bush gone — it’s scarcely possible to imagine how a major political party could be held in lower esteem among voters.  By huge margins (63-29%), Americans believe the GOP opposed Obama’s stimulus package for political reasons, not because they genuinely believed it would be bad for the economy; they overwhelmingly disapprove of Congressional Republicans (38-56%) while approving of Obama (68-25%) and even Congressional Democrats (50-44%); trust Obama over Congressional Republicans to handle the economy (61-26%); and trust Democrats over Republicans “to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years” (56-30%).  Those are enormous margins.

The punditry’s claims that Americans want Democrats to dilute their policies in order to attract and include Republican support is entirely misleadingThe endless media stories that Eric Cantor, Michael Steele and Rick Santelli are now riding some resurgent, anti-stimulus GOP wave are pure fiction.  And the incessant calls for “bipartisanship” are anti-democratic in the extreme.

The Villagers stubbornly insist on reading from a hackneyed, out-of-date script, one that no longer even remotely resembles reality (if it ever actually did).  But no matter what steaming, stinking bullshit manufactured outrage merchants like Santelli, Ratigan, or Michelle Malkin brazenly peddle,  as Greenwald notes the bottom line is this:

[T]he reason that Americans voted overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats in the last two elections and overwhelmingly against Republicans is because they want Democratic policies and not Republicans [sic] policies .  They drove Republicans out of office in massive numbers because they don’t want Republicans and their policies governing the country.

In other words, spittle-flecked fauxpulist motherfuckers like Rick Santelli can suck it.  Hopefully he gets banished to the PJTV wilderness post haste, so he can serve heaping plates of bloody red meat to the Chicago Tea Party massif alongside his ideological (and, um, intellectual) brethren Glenn Reynolds and Joe the Plumber.  And the rest of us can get back to, y’know, trying to fix the mess we inherited from the previous administration.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Shock Doctrine 2: Clean Slates

by matttbastard

Chapter One: The Torture Lab

Ewan Cameron, the CIA and the maniacal quest to erase and remake the human mind

(previous posts in this series here and here; Sarah’s take on chapter one is here)

“Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no conditions can it either lead into freedom or constitute a proof for its existence.”

- Hannah Arendt

The first chapter of The Shock Doctrine is, without a doubt, one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in some time.  Naomi Klein renders her shock therapy metaphor viscerally literal, outlining a horrific series of Cold War-era CIA- sponsored experiments conducted on unwitting Canadian mental patients by renowned Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Ewen Campbell of McGill University–techniques that Klein contends are now (or, at least at the time the book was published, were) “being applied to prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.”

Rebecca Lemov explains what Cameron did on behalf of his generous patrons in the U.S. intelligence community:

Cameron’s goal was to wipe out the stable “self,” eliminating deep-seated psychological problems in order to rebuild it. The CIA wanted to know what his experiments suggested about interrogating people with the help of sensory deprivation and psychic disorientation.

Cameron’s technique was to expose a patient to tape-recorded messages or sounds that were played back for long periods. The goal was a condition Cameron dubbed “penetration”: The patient experienced an escalating state of distress that often caused him or her to reveal long-buried past experiences. At that point, the doctor would offer “healing” suggestions. Frequently, his patients didn’t want to listen and would attack their analyst or try to leave the room.

In a 1956 American Journal of Psychiatry article, Cameron explained that he broke down their resistance by continually repeating his message using “pillow and ceiling microphones” and different voices; by imposing periods of prolonged sleep and by giving patients drugs like Sodium Amytal, Desoxyn and LSD-25, which “disorganized” thought patterns.

To further disorganize his patients, Cameron isolated them in a sensory deprivation chamber. In a dark room, a patient would sit in silence with his eyes covered with goggles, prevented “from touching his body — thus interfering with his self image.” Finally, “attempts were made to cut down on his expressive output” — he was restrained or bandaged so he could not scream. Cameron combined these tactics with extended periods of forced listening to taped messages for up to 20 hours per day, for 10 or 15 days at a stretch.

In 1958 and 1959, Cameron went further. With new CIA money behind him, he tried to completely “depattern” 53 patients by combining psychic driving with electroshock therapy and a long-term, drug-induced coma. At the most intensive stage of the treatment, many subjects were no longer able to perform even basic functions. They needed training to eat, use the toilet, or speak. Once the doctor allowed the drugs to wear off, patients slowly relearned how to take care of themselves — and their pretreatment symptoms were said to have disappeared.

So had much of their personalities. Patients emerged from Cameron’s ward walking differently, talking differently, acting differently. Wives were more docile, daughters less inclined to histrionics, sons better-behaved. Most had no memory of their treatment or of their previous lives. Sometimes, they forgot they had children.

Klein drives home the destructive impact of Cameron’s experiments by profiling Gail Kastner, one of the victims of his attempts to “penetrate” the human mind.  Kastner resides in a cluttered apartment within what Klein describes as “a grim old age home”,  beset by chronic pain due to severe injuries suffered during her time spent as one of Cameron’s subjects. The legacy of trauma is not just physical; Kastner suffers from lingering psycological damage, severe nightmares involving Cameron, long dead, and the shocks that he administered 63 times during the course of her ‘treatment’, sending “150 to 200 volts of electricity” coursing through “the frontal lobes of her brain, while her body convulsed violently on the table, causing fractures, sprains, bloody lips, broken teeth.”

Kastner does her best to compensate for the damage, scrawling out seemingly inconsequential details on scraps of paper and old cigarette boxes, “extremely dense handwriting: names, numbers, thousands of words”. Klein explains that, for Kastner, these constitute “something more than an unconventional filing system.  They are her memory.”

As Klein notes, “Gail’s mind has failed her; facts evaporate instantly, memories…are like snapshots scattered on the ground”.  Cameron’s desire to “unmake and erase faulty minds , then rebuild new personalities on that ever-elusive clean slate” was all-too effective, leaving Kastner and others who were victimized in this quest to dissect the human consciousness “as empty as Eve,” as fellow shock therapy survivor Marilyn Rice described her remade and remodeled self.  Klein gets to the root of where Cameron and, as further detailed later on in the book, economic shock therapists like Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs are misguided in the chosen method of treatment:

The problem, obvious in retrospect, was the premise on which [Cameron's] entire theory rested: the idea that before healing can happen, everything that existed before needs to be wiped out.

(Creative) destruction in order to cleanse the world of corruption.

Sarah notes that the evils perpetuated by Cameron and, later, by “pro-war hawks who call for the bombing of countries ‘back to the stone age'”, (an analogy made by Klein that is, in my mind, all-too-apt) are not borne of comic-book villain malevolence; rather, “these people quite often do think in a strange way that they’re helping.” Still, regardless of intent, the goal remains the same, as do the means of achievement: “wipe out the stable “self,” eliminating deep-seated…problems in order to rebuild it.” As we’ll discover in later chapters, this clinical quest to return entire societies by way of severe trauma –and, consequently, the individuals like Kastner who collectively make up these societies–to what the disaster capitalists believe to be an Edenic state of uncorrupted economic purity has been embarked upon numerous times throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

And the consequences have been no less devestating than what Kastner now has to live with for the rest of her life.

Next week: The Other Doctor Shock: Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Laboratory

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

A Quick Note

by matttbastard

Due to travel considerations (and, um, the Academy Awards  *cough*) this week’s Shock Doctrine posts from Sarah and I will be delayed until tomorrow.  Which gives y’all an extra day to read Chapter One (slackers).  And, if you  are wondering what the hell I’m going on about, our posts outlining the reasons why we decided to do this series now, nearly two years after TSD was released, are crossposted here and here; our posts re: the introduction can be found here and here.

See you Monday.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

On Diversity, The New York Post, and Cartoons That Just Aren’t Funny, Man.

by matttbastard

My partner-in-crime, Sarah Jaffe, is on deadly point re: cartoonist Sean Delonas and the now-infamous New York Post race fail:

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post said on MSNBC (at about 3:55 of the video) that the problem might’ve been caught if there was better diversity in the workplace. For example, I’d be willing to bet that many of the people who defended the cartoon on [Newsarama blogger] Caleb’s post [link added--mb] were white. I’m not trying to beat up on anyone for being white–I’m white. But the thing is, being white, we simply don’t deal with racism the same way. This is what diversity does: it provides multiple viewpoints, multiple frames of reference for the same subject. This doesn’t mean controversial subjects should be avoided at all costs, but that fraught images like this one can be examined from different perspectives, and that perhaps a better critique of the stimulus package could’ve been produced.

Exactly so. And it’s not simply mainstream/right-leaning media outlets that could greatly benefit from a more diverse selection of voices.  Check out this wanktastic basket of white liberal fail at Mother Jones (yes, that Mother Jones) from some douchebucket named Daniel Luzer (“It’s pronounced Loot-zer”), who says that Al Sharpton should just, like, STFU “because the cartoon isn’t offensive, unless you’re an ape.”

Luzer digs his trusty shovel in deeper:

This cartoon has nothing to do with the ethnicity of Obama’s father and everything to do with the fact that the stimulus bill is messy. So messy, in fact, that it could have been written by a chimpanzee.

[...]

You many not even get the cartoon at all (stimulus=monkey?), but that’s understandable because it’s not that funny; it’s just not racist either. Sometimes a joke about monkeys is, well, just a joke about monkeys.

And sometimes a privileged hotshot straight outta Columbia J-School is simply a clueless tangle of unexamined privilege and egoverridden certaintude. But, hey, thanks for explaining to us dumb apes what is and isn’t ‘racist.’  If there’s one thing every (needlessly!) aggrieved negro needs it’s a walking whiteboy encyclopedia of TRUE bigotry to calmly and rationally tell us to, um, chill the fuck out, man.

Me and my elevated blood-pressure are simply overcome with gratitude.

DJ rewind:

[B]eing white, we simply don’t deal with racism the same way.

Rewind, my selekta:

[T]he cartoon isn’t offensive, unless you’re an ape.

Yeah, that.

Related: Bil Browning and Erica C. Barnett note that Delonas has a longstanding history of being an “equal-opportunity asshat”, as Barnett aptly dubs him–so much so that GLAAD has compiled an ongoing dossier of his greatest defamatory hits.

Barnett wins the intertubes for the day:

So, for the record, here’s a (presumably noncomprehensive) noncomprehensive list of groups Delonas hates/considers worthy of mockery: the womenz, the gays, the blacks, the fatties, the handicapped, the oldsters, and the blind. Given that list, I’m thinking Delonas’ only audience is, what, angry white male misanthropes with body anxiety and mommy issues?

Yeah, AKA the core subscriber base of the Murdoch Post.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Shock Doctrine 1: The Erased World

by matttbastard

Introduction: Blank is Beautiful

Three decades of erasing and remaking the world

The Shock Doctrine opens with a quote from the Book of Genesis, chapter 6, verse 11:

Now the Earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the rest of the earth.

(Creative) destruction in order to cleanse the world of corruption.

What happens when neoliberal economic theory is applied–in many cases through violent, often horrific coercion? Naomi Klein begins her best-selling chronicle of  capitalist Utopianism run amok in post-Katrina Louisiana, where Milton Friedman, revolutionary evangelist of coolly amoral free market fundamentalism, sees an opportunity in Katrina’s destructive wake:

“[I]nstead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they then could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state.”

The result?

Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it just ran 4. Before the storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31.

Klein refers to this sort of opportunistic, ideologically-motivated renewal project ‘disaster capitalism’, noting that, over the past several decades, “Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock.”

Shock.

It’s a theme Klein continually examines and reexamines throughout the book–and not simply  in a metaphorical sense, as I will discuss further in later installments.

What stood out most for me in the introduction was how effectively Klein weaves together seemingly disparate strands of neoliberal economics, US foreign policy, and experimental psychology into a coherent thesis.  She manages to avoid the logical inconsistencies of conspiracy theory,  meticulously spreading the foundation for her thesis and taking advantage of her background as an investigative journalist to provide ample support for her contentions.

A few minor quibbles aside (The Cato Insitute is not a ‘neoconservative’ think tank, as Klein dubs it, but, rather, a right-leaning libertarian organization that, contrary to her insinuations, opposed the war in Iraq), the introduction provides both an expansive overview of the themes Klein will explore more in depth in subsequent chapters and an inspiring call-to-arms for those of us who have looked on in horror at the wreckage (both psychological and physical) that has been left behind after decades of neoliberal shock therapy.

If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out Sarah’s first post–and, please, don’t hesitate to offer your own thoughts, opinions, and observations in comments.  We want this to be an interactive dialogue, and look forward over the coming weeks to having you all read along with us.

Next week: The Torture Lab: Ewan Cameron, the CIA and the maniacal quest to erase and remake the human mind

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Shock Doctrine.

by matttbastard and Sarah J

We’re watching the collapse of capitalism in real time, slow motion.

The economic crisis was largely the result of a vast speculative bubble, one that inevitably had to burst, and those in charge of U.S. and global economic policy knew this, but did nothing to prepare for the impending crisis. The effect was magnified thanks to a deliberate ongoing campaign of ideologically-motivated deregulation for the sake of deregulating. In other words, this didn’t just happen in a vacuum. It didn’t sneak up. It was very much deliberate.

Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine details exactly how we got to this point. The book came out in 2007, but right now serves as kind of a ‘how did we get here,’ with ‘here’ being the new Depression.

It’s a fairly well-known and well-read book in progressive circles, and yet neither Sarah nor I had read it yet. With the bottom falling out of the economy, and inspired by Erik and Rob’s posts on From Colony to Superpower, we decided not just to read the book, but to blog it, reading chapter by chapter, in two places, to see what we each draw from it.

Reading The Shock Doctrine allows us to examine a series of cataclysmic events that have occurred over the past 50 years, so we can hopefully avoid repeating the same mistakes (or allowing the same warped, Utopian ideals to usurp the public debate).

Most importantly, to prevent the same tactics from being applied now, in the wake of the biggest global economic shockwave yet.

Because the more we read, the more imperative we think it is to tie Klein’s thesis and investigations into what’s happening right now, as Friedmanite ideologues continue to preach the doctrine of deregulation and tax cuts as panacea.

So, starting tomorrow, we’ll have posts up once a week, mine here, Sarah’s at Alterdestiny. We agree on lots of things, but come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to draw different readings of the book. We’re inviting all of you, whether you’ve read the book or not, to join in the discussion, and hope we can cross some of our audiences back and forth and gain some insight into the global economic mess.

(x-posted @ Alterdestiny)

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Return of ‘Lawful Access’

by matttbastard

Well, isn’t this lovely:

The Conservative government is preparing sweeping new eavesdropping legislation that will force Internet service providers to let police tap exchanges on their systems – but will likely reignite fear that Big Brother will be monitoring the private conversations of Canadians.

The goal of the move, which would require police to obtain court approval, is to close what has been described as digital “safe havens” for criminals, pedophiles and terrorists because current eavesdropping laws were written in a time before text messages, Facebook and voice-over-Internet phone lines.

The change is certain to please the RCMP and other police forces, who have sought it for some time. But it is expected to face resistance from industry players concerned about the cost and civil libertarians who warn the powers will effectively place Canadians under constant surveillance.

Constant surveillance–how so?

The concern of critics is that unlike a traditional wiretap that cannot commence without judicial approval, lawful-access legislation in other countries has forced Internet providers to routinely gather and store the electronic traffic of their clients. Those stored data can then be obtained by police via search warrant.

“That means we’re under surveillance, in some sense, all the time,” said Richard Rosenberg, president of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “I think that changes the whole nature of how we view innocence in a democratic society.”

Um, yeah, just a li’l bit.

Oh, and, via Michael Geist, it seems our loyal opposition is also doing its part to represent the best interests of the nation by, um, once again proposing its own lawful access legislation–a bill even more odious than the government’s':

…Liberal MP Marlene Jennings has reintroduced her lawful access private member’s bill, called the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act.  The Jennings bill is a virtual copy of a failed Liberal lawful access bill that died in 2005.

[...]

[T]he Jennings bill would require ISPs to disclose customer name and address information to law enforcement without court oversight.

The Magical ConservaLiberal Unity Pony drops yet another stinking, steaming load on our heads; I love the smell of bipartisan turdblossoms in the morning.

Cough.  Anyway.

From what I can tell, the only substantive difference between Van Loan’s proposed piece of legislation and the one then-Public Safety Minister Stockboy Day tried to surreptitiously impose in 2007 without any public input (before backpeddling quicker than you can say ‘Ogopogo’) is the apparent requirement of judicial approval (which, as noted, may not provide much in the way of protection for a citizen’s private online information–and  Jennings’ PMB offers, um, none).  Otherwise, the state will, in essence, be forcing ISPs to fulfill the darkest fantasies of the tinfoil-adorned black helicopter set.

And, as Impolitical (h/t) notes:

The dangers of such powers being placed with law enforcement and the potential for abuses have been made abundantly clear by the experience Americans have had with the Bush administration and the revelations from whistleblowers in the last year.

Two examples:

Am in full agreement with Geist here:

…Van Loan should commit to active consultations with the privacy community before introducing the legislation; renew the government’s pledge for full court oversight (including for customer name and address information); and there must be full hearings on the bill that place the burden on law enforcement to demonstrate that there is a problem with the law as it currently stands.

Bottom line: this is not a path any purportedly ‘free’ society should hastily embark upon.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers