Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Humping Dog Day

Welcome to Hump Day, and the so-called Dog Days of Summer, which actually started about a week ago. Seriously. The term has something to do with the rising of the Sirius dog star and its proximity to the sun during July and August, leading the ancients to believe that hot weather is caused by the wrathful gods. Not too different from the thought processes of our own contemporary climate change denialists, come to think of it.


When I was young and stupid, I thought Dog Days were called that because of the tendency of dogs to become moribund and pant a lot during warm weather. As a matter of fact, I still do think that. I also think of the rabid dog scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird", which I think is one of the best evocations of oppressive summer weather ever written (and filmed.)


Speaking of foaming at the mouth and brain pathology, Dog Days also has a Wall Street/political meaning. Common wisdom has it that August marks the economic doldrums, when the tycoons all retreat to their Hamptons estates, inertia blankets the land, and Congress wakes up from its coma just long enough to go home and collect more bribes raise money. But these too are myths. Writes Theo Francis of NPR:
August is supposedly a quiet month on Wall Street, in Washington, D.C., and for business and finance generally. Except sometimes it isn't — and it's always the run-up to September, which can be pretty eventful in itself (think 2008 and the collapse of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman Bros.)
So this week is shaping up to bring August in like a lion, with several potentially significant economic developments already on the calendar.
Two of the biggest: the potential for major Federal Reserve action on Wednesday (today), and some much-anticipated jobs numbers on Friday.
Francis certainly was prescient. The Algorithm Monster of Wall Street struck again this morning, creating so much volatility that the NYSE had to temporarily suspend the feeding frenzy. Maybe it was Cerberus, the hell dog, at the gates.

And then there's all the blog-snoring about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's rehabilitation tour in the wake of the Libor scandal. He is suddenly pretending to be on the side of underwater homeowners through much theatrical hand-wringing over the Fannie/Freddie acting director's refusal to help people write down their mortgage debt. This is one more example of the Obama Administration policy of being "caught trying" to be on the side of regular people. Yves Smith has more on this, making the salient point that "there is enough distress in the heartlands and enough well warranted antipathy for banks that it ought to be possible to make inroads on this front. But with Obama and Geithner dyed-in-the-wool neoliberals in charge, the failure in messaging comes from the top."


Obama has never failed to mention that only "hardworking, responsible" (read solidly middle and upper-middle class) homeowners who have good credit and jobs, who weren't the greedy unqualified homebuyers of right wing mythology, and who have always been on time with payments should get help with mortgage modifications. This leaves out the unemployed, the underemployed, most minorities and single mothers, anybody who got snookered into a sub-prime loan, and just about everybody who is struggling to make ends meet. And that's just about everybody.


The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”
-- Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting.

12 comments:

Denis Neville said...

Dog days of summer and dog day demolitions and dilemmas…

Mitten's slogan is "Believe in America." Obama’s is "Forward."

Popular consensus is that behind both parties are just dog day demolitions.

Urban Dictionary defines “dog day demolition” as “downright dirty and damned destruction of anything anywhere.”

There are 97 days until the Presidential election. Dog days dilemmas:

Do we, as Chris Hedges implores, “turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for President”?

To hell with all those people living in the dire circumstances described in “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt?” Are we so morally certain?

Tom Levenson argues, “This election counts. The differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are real. There are consequential differences in the America and the world my son will inhabit that will come down to what happens on November 6 - and of course, what happens after…”

http://inversesquare.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/hedges-and-the-monasteries-a-follow-up/

Hedges’ call to action:

“All conventional forms of dissent, from electoral politics to open debates, have been denied us. We cannot rely on the institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience.”

Levenson: “We cannot rely on [our institutions]. But we can use them, if and as we find ways to penetrate them...We won’t get anywhere institutionally if we don’t engage in, among much else, the act of voting.”

“Despite Hedges’ disgust for what he’s seen from either party, there remain major differences between the parties, distinctions that have real consequences within the lives of every American (and many others as well, to be sure). So, to my mind, the real question is how much are you willing to risk to further, perhaps, that day when the resistance fractures the power structure sufficiently to erect a better place in its stead? How deeply do you believe in the “sharpen the contradiction” approach to political transformation?”

Glenn Greenwald today, “An elite class that is free to operate without limits — whether limits imposed by the rule of law or fear of the responses from those harmed by their behavior — is an elite class that will plunder, degrade, and cheat at will, and act endlessly to fortify its own power.”

http://www.salon.com/2012/08/01/chris_hayes_on_elite_failure/#comments

Greenwald is right, “Something is needed to pose a credible threat of unrest if America’s elite class continues on the same course.”

Jay - Ottawa said...

Some of us have pretty much given up on TV, even PBS, CSPAN and TVO, or radio, even NPR, or the newspapers – yes, I’m talking to you, NYT. There are still some weeklies and monthlies, worth subscribing to, but the real news to follow closely, daily, usually comes over sites like Sardonicky. The link to Yves Smith’s latest was especially rewarding today. I address this to Sardonicky the site, not to Karen personally, because I don’t want her to be embarrassed by my clumsy attempts at praise.

@ Denis
I must deal with you by name, for you have no website that I’m aware of. Thanks for the pointer this morning opening up the possibility of more follow-up on Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites.” He certainly deserves a good look. Your comment prompted me to brush up his bio, then to visit sites and blogs, like Rolling Stone and Greenwald, where Hayes is interviewed. Today, after an introduction to “Twilight,” Greenwald offers a link to his interview of Hayes.
http://www.salon.com/writer/glenn_greenwald//

“Twilight” is beginning to sound like one of the “must reads” of the Dog Days season. (For me, the last big read on such issues was Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” which I strongly recommend.) Hayes probes the merits and shortcomings of our once-fabled Meritocracy vs our present Brutocracy vs something more desirable than either for shaping the good society.

Too much money, as usual, is at the root of our present difficulties, particularly as it pans out into economic inequality. “Mass anger” and fear and their uses for good and bad are also discussed.

All of this business, the reviewers assure us, is not lined up and knocked down in the usual way. Greenwald says the Hayes book makes you think more and in new ways after you put it down.

Heady stuff. Your comments here and elsewhere, Kevin, much appreciated following Karen’s work in the same vein, help open up the world of ideas – and possible solutions to our current political dilemmas. Much more rewarding than ending up in some dull cul de sac circling one’s own navel.

Kat said...

Jay,
Have you read Christopher Lasch's Revolt of the Elites? he took on the idea of a meritocracy 20 years ago.
There is plenty to piss of the left and the right in the book. So, maybe he was doing something right. He has critiques of the welfare state that echo those of Ivan Illich.
I have not read the Hayes book, but from what I have read of it it seems as if he wishes to make the meritocracy more, well, meritous. Lasch dispenses with the whole idea of a meritocracy. After all , the word was coined in satire.
This was Lasch's last book. A bio of this social critic and historian came out last year. Here is Andrew Bacevich's review of the book: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/family-man-christopher-lasch-and-populist-imperative

Denis Neville said...

@ Kat – Thanks for reminding me of Ivan Illich.

I first went to South America in 1967 as a student in Bogota, Colombia. My youthful enthusiasm for all-things-Latin America was tempered by Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions” admonition to the Conference on Inter-American Student Projects in 1968. http://www.swaraj.org/illich_hell.htm:

“To hell with good intentions. This is a theological statement. You will not help anybody by your good intentions. There is an Irish saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; this sums up the same theological insight.”

“I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.”

I last recalled Illich’s words while flying to Lima, Peru to hike the Inca Trail almost a decade ago. The plane was packed with “mission-vacationers.”

Kat said...

More on good intentions from Lasch
From The New York Review of Books-- a special supplement on Vietnam. It also featured Chomsky, Sheldon Wolin, Gore Vidal among others.
.The American intervention in Indochina was a grotesque mistake from the start. Any reasonably intelligent student of politics would have foreseen (and did foresee) the futility of backing dictators with no popular following and no other means of support than American arms. Even the CIA warned repeatedly that military measures would not work unless accompanied by social reforms instituted by Saigon. Many other officials reluctantly came to the same conclusion in the course of time: yet the war went on because no President wanted to be the first to lose a major war (including Nixon who might still be bombing today if he had not carelessly allowed himself to be driven from office). What made it a major war in the first place if not American intervention, which furnished the arms that allowed both sides to escalate a little war into a big one?

Both sides have been corrupted by the American “presence.” No doubt this is the story of Western colonialism in general, but at least France left Indochina something besides missiles, venereal disease, and a taste for PX high living. The rot that finally undermined the anticommunist regime was in part the direct result of prolonged American intervention. As for the other side, it would be naïve to think that they have not been corrupted in their own way by the bitterness generated by a very long war, by the experience of having been bombed nearly back to the Stone Age, by deprivations, the desire for revenge, and thirty years of military discipline. What may have begun as a heroic struggle for liberty is likely to end in a wholesale political regression, thanks in part to the intensification of violence that American intervention made possible. Only sentimentalists would argue that the long war for independence has laid the foundations of democratic socialism, popular rule, and civil liberties.

Jay - Ottawa said...

@Kat
It’s been a long time since I've thought about Christopher Lasch. I once had two grad student friends who would come back from his classes full of enthusiasm and praise for the guy.

Now that you mention it, there is a similarity of focus between Hayes and Lasch, although they write a generation apart. And thanks for the link to that fine Bacevich review, which covers a lot of ground.

Hayes and Lasch are/were intellectual historians on a thinking-out-loud pilgrimage, rejecting the consensus model, but tentative about the right path. They are zealots for doubt about our gods. They sound an uncertain note at the end of their musings, which may be the most honest tune we’ve heard in a long time from politicians and pundits.

Because they spit hard left and right, they are impossible to place along the political spectrum. If we peg Lasch as at heart a populist, although born of degreed progressives and married into the family of a renown liberal historian (Henry Steele Commager), where does one ever pin down populists within the spectrum of social criticism, what with their mostly very left-leaning economics and very right-leaning praise for traditional values?

For Lasch, the idea of endless progress is something a bit too extravagant for a finite world managed by humans. Like capitalism, “progress” accepts no bounds and hopes to swallow too much.

Yes, fear the meritocracy, especially in charge of institutions too big to fail – but less so with smaller organizations where the smart are both essential and helpful. It is the meritocracies who say they know how to keep unlimited progress and boundless capitalism humming. And they do, for a while. But after their failure, what? Nihilism? Billions of people in countless pockets of confusion? The trick, I suspect, is to keep institutions as small as possible. Otherwise, like HAL in 2001, they run us.

We lucky ones just happen to be fortunate enough to be on the scene to witness the crash of the elites, their meritocracies, and their oversized projects. As you remind us, Lasch, a prophetic social critic, warned us about this decades ago.

I hope Hayes is the new boy on the block doing the same old thing, along with aging standard bearers like Chomsky, Vidal (alas, gone this past week), Hedges and maybe Bacevich, among others.

Hayes does worry about meritocracy. Its cream rises to the top then sours after spending time in the sun of the monied elite. One of the points stressed by Hayes is how good-willed and meritorious achievers will inescapably be captured and corrupted by the institutions they tend. Because some institutions are just plain too big, meritocracy (corrupted or not) will eventually end up on the precipice of the Peter Principle. Whether short on character or short on smarts, who cares? Everybody loses.

It’s a hard pill to swallow: that Americans should confess our national and international sins, quit the missionary spirit, stay close to home, focus on family, read a bit more carefully from noteworthy believers and non-believers, turn down the volume on just about everything and, of course, consume less.

Yearning for that republic of Jeffersonian ideals is a step backward that is impossible for moderns – unless, unless, unless of course the big banks do fail, the great institutions do implode, the environment does gag, enough folks do get angry, the world does slide into chaos, human achievements to date are lost, and whatever is “local” will be all we have left.

valerie said...

I have nothing to add to this erudite conversation other than to say how much I appreciated reading it. Thanks, Denis, Jay and Kat.

Zee said...

@Karen--

Regarding the "...the greedy unqualified homebuyers of right wing mythology..."

I realize that it's ultimately my responsibility to find credible data that refute this contention--and thus far I have been unsuccessful in finding any data to the contrary--but do you have any hard data that you would care to share that establish how many subprime loans were issued as a consequence of (1) predatory lending practices against naive borrowers, versus (2) borrowers who committed lending fraud against law-abiding lenders by overstating their incomes and assets?

I'm not asking to be snide; I'm just genuinely curious.

Next, there plenty of "hardworking, responsible (read solidly middle and upper-middle class) homeowners" who were seriously injured in the real estate collapse of 2008 yet didn't have anything to do with buying into subprime mortgages, and who are not begging for some sort of bailout for their losses.

I'm speaking of people like myself who bought our homes during the height of the housing bubble, who still continue with our mortgage payments--or who maybe even own our houses outright--yet who have taken huge paper losses in the value of our homes.

I don't see any of us whining about our lost property values, or the difficulty that this might impose on us when we eventually need to liquidate our homes to care for ourselves in old age. Much though I'd like a "bailout" following the collapse of this artificially created bubble, I'm not asking for one.

And had I lost my job somewhere along the line and couldn't afford the continued payments, who would be mourning for me and demanding that "Washington must do something?"

I'm the first to acknowledge that I have been blessed in life. But had things turned out just a little bit differently for upper-middle class me--not wiping me out financially but hurting me serverely--would Jill Stein be worrying about MY fate?

Again, I'm just asking.

Karen Garcia said...

Zee,

Here is an interesting paper to get you started:

http://www.prrac.org/projects/fair_housing_commission/atlanta/SubprimeMortgageForeclosure_and_Race_1014.pdf

It is a well-known fact that minorities have always been victimized in the housing market. First it was redlining, when the banks either refused to lend or would lend only for properties in bad neighborhoods. Then, when Wall Street got greedier than usual and gave out loans to anyone with a pulse in order to slice and dice them into securities to foist on an unsuspecting public, minorities and "the underclass" were swept up in that debacle too. Many were even pushed into subprime loans when their credit was decent, only to be foreclosed on when the adjustable rates ballooned after a few years,and they couldn't keep up with the payments Then came the Crash, when the subprime bubble burst, and even people with regular mortgages were affected, having lost their jobs and incomes. That was the next big wave of foreclosures. Now, we have people who are saddled with underwater home values, and the govt may be willing to help them because they have actually managed to keep up the payments despite the bad economy.
I don't know if Jill Stein is worried about the upper middle class. But I assume she is egalitarian in that regard. Why don't you ask her? The link in my latest post goes directly to her site.

Anne Lavoie said...

@Zee

To give you just one glaring and well-documented example of deliberate fraud on the part of the bank involving subprime mortgages, start with this article from Huffington Post about Washington Mutual.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/12/wamu-executives-knew-of-r_n_534800.html

Google 'WaMu and fraud' for even more information. Congress investigated them and found plenty of internal documentation to prove fraud. It is outrageous that none of the banksters have been charged.

Neil Gillespie said...

@Zee "I don't see any of us whining about our lost property values,"

Sounds like whining to me…which is fine, that’s the American way, freedom of speech.

"I'm speaking of people like myself who bought our homes during the height of the housing bubble"

Sounds like a bad decision, corrected by the market. That’s how real capitalism is supposed to work…

The answer to your question , how many subprime loans were issued as a consequence of (1) predatory lending practices against naive borrowers, versus (2) borrowers who committed lending fraud against law-abiding lenders by overstating their incomes and assets, the answer might be NONE, ZERO. Don’t buy into that false dichotomy.

Subprime loans were issued as a consequence Fannie and Freddie government loan guarantees, that’s all. The banks and lending institutions sold out the American people and would have given loans to sheep and rocks if it was permitted.

Listen to Matt Weidner, a mortgage foreclosure defense lawyer and former Republican. This video is like a couple of cups of coffee in the morning to get going.

http://youtu.be/BsLoG4Q8k58

Matt says the banks wrote the loans knowing they would not get repaid, and did so only because of the loan guarantees. This ten minute has it all.

Real capitalism is a sword that cuts both ways - I know, I was in a real capitalist business for many years, as an independent auto dealer. Nothing between me and the abyss other than my wits and luck, along with the things Elizabeth Warren describes:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there -- good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory... Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea -- God Bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/09/20/1018700/-Warren-Tells-It-Like-it-Is-No-One-in-This-Country-Got-Rich-on-his-Own

I was lucky to buy prime land in the beautiful white suburbs, property in front of a busy shopping mall. It was a nice ride from about $80K to $2M in property value. Plus I had a number of older workers, trained by the government, and tested on the battlefields of Europe, Africa and Asia during WWII…

Neil Gillespie said...

@Zee, part 2

And as Isaac Newton noted about the law of gravity, what goes up must come down.

That is the downside of capitalism. According to the Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years, although I recall reading somewhere that the rate is closer to 90%. Even the best entrepreneur’s smarts, money or luck can run out. And on a long enough time line the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. You would think this last truism would inform the rules of the game, since you can’t take it with you.

The 1987 stock crash hit my business hard, then an arson struck. So I sold, at a surprisingly good price, but my next investment did not do well.

Capitalism and life in America is a little like a big game of musical chairs. But nowadays there are fewer and fewer chairs left when the music stops.