A strange and bitter crop, indeed.

Quite possibly the most unfortunate lynching metaphor ever  (or so far this week, anyhow — bear in mind, it’s only Tuesday):

The uproar over bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”

Yes, clearly AIG CEO Robert Benmosche was only a few comment threads away from becoming the Emmitt Till of financial plutocracy. And that’s not just whistlin’ ‘Dixie’ (or any whistlin’ at all, period. Natch).

(h/t)

Related: 2,400 reasons why Benmosche’s egregious criticism/genocide analogy was beyond inapt.

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The Shock Doctrine 6: Crimes and Misdemeanors

by matttbastard

Chapter 5: “Entirely Unrelated” How an Ideology was Cleansed of its Crimes

(Previous posts here, Sarah’s posts here.)

Why is it that capitalism’s crimes are divorced from the ideology itself, while Marxism is joined at the hip to the atrocities of the USSR and Revolutionary China?

In Chapter 5, Klein examines how neoliberalism managed to wash itself of the many, many atrocities committed by its acolytes in the Southern Cone, ironically in the name of ‘cleansing’ polluted economic systems.  She contends that, by focusing on generalized ‘human rights violations’ rather than exploring the systemic and ideological foundations underneath, well-meaning organizations such as Amnesty International essentially played the role of useful idiots.  It wasn’t Friedman’s fault (much less neoliberalism’s)  that a few ‘bad apples’ went a bit too far with their security policies while trying to ‘reform’ their ‘impure’ economies.

So, the horrific human rights abuses perpetuated by the likes of Stalin and Mao are used to define and smear an entire political and economic school, while Pinochet or the Junta in Argentina are written off as isolated incidents, nothing to do with the drive to liberalize markets by any means necessary.

As the global economic crisis continues unabated, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we write off the current situation as the result of bad luck, incompetence, a few bad apples at AIG getting unearned taxpayer-funded bonuses, Bernie Madoff’s now-infamous Ponzi scheme? Or do we take the opportunity to honestly look at what REALLY brought us to this point?

Matt Taibbi believes we need to examine and come to terms with the deliberate, malicious systemic abuses and deficiencies that, for too many years, have allowed shady speculators to essentially roll the public, repeatedly:

So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. […]

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they’re not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d’état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — “our partners in the government,” as [AIG CEO Edward] Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

In other words, what got us here is a feature, not a bug.  The rot won’t be quelled by purging the barrel of rotten fruit; the barrel itself is befouled and corrupted. We can’t afford to allow the same greedy, sociopathic assholes who helped erect the current neoliberal economic structure to build a new framework that will inevitably lead to another future collapse.

After too many years of evading responsibility, unregulated capitalism must be held accountable, once and for all.

Next–Chapter 6: Saved by a War Thatcherism and its Useful Enemies

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F*ck Me with a Freshly Sharpened Pitchfork.

by matttbastard

Update 03/23: Make sure to check out Sarah’s post on Spitzer, populism, and The Experts.

On today’s episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS, an ‘expert panel’ was convened to discuss ‘populist’ outrage in the wake of AIG and other recent scandals related to the global economic crisis. Via email, I bet Sarah a dinner at IHOP (because we be keepin’ it real like that in this economy) that the ‘expert panel’ would be tilted towards the Washington media elite–y’know, Broder,  Friedman, maybe some latte-sipping ‘even the’ liberal from TNR.  Sarah very astutely declined to take me up on that bet.

Good thing, too–I knew it was going to be bad, but this so-called ‘expert panel’ went beyond even the previously charted borders of EPIC ESTABLISHMENT FAIL .

I mean, was that ‘expert panel’ on ‘populist rage’ a joke?  Let’s see: a glibertarian blogger, a former Goldman Sachs greed peddler, and a tainted ex-Merril Lynch exec.

Seriously?

How about next time try featuring some actual, y’know, populists–labour reps, or writers like Barbara Ehrenreich or Bill Fletcher, Jr–people who aren’t stuck in the bubble of establishment Washington, who don’t purse their lips at such vulgar concepts as ‘populism’,  ‘nationalization’ or even (gasp!) ‘socialism.’   Or, as Sarah suggested, someone like our homie Erik Loomis, a Gilded Age historian whose focus is labor history and has studied in depth populist movements in the US. In other words, REAL experts on the matter of ‘populist rage’, not smug apologists for the very system that has PROVOKED the white-hot ire of the general public.

At the end of the segment, Zakaria guilelessly requested that viewers write in if they felt the panel didn’t contain enough populist outrage “and we’ll see what we can do to correct that”. Dude, there was NO populist outrage–period.  Jesus fucking wept — talk about a glib cocktail party sneer from the woefully-out-of-touch establishment.

Pitchforks. Pikes. Tumbrils.

Take action: Contact Fareed Zakaria GPS and (politely but firmly) let them know that you want to see REAL experts on populism represented in any purportedly ‘expert’ panel.

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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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