Friday, May 9, 2014

Always Something New Under the Sun

It's an established fact that a tiny cadre of humans, nearly all of them men, own most of the world's wealth and resources. About 85 people have more money than half the population of the entire planet combined. So, what's not to tax? (besides your patience, that is.)

Perhaps even more odious than the wealth dynasties accounting for much of the record income inequality is the rise of the hyper-rich hedge fund manager. Paul Krugman takes on this new breed of predatory billionaire in his latest column, pre-empting the standard jaded response of "So, what else is new?" and refuting the standard right-wing apologia that the speculating rich deserve every penny they're able to extract:
The goal of this misdirection is to soften the picture, to make it seem as if we’re talking about ordinary white-collar professionals who get ahead through education and hard work.
But many Americans are well-educated and work hard. For example, schoolteachers. Yet they don’t get the big bucks. Last year, those 25 hedge fund managers made more than twice as much as all the kindergarten teachers in America combined. And, no, it wasn’t always thus: The vast gulf that now exists between the upper-middle-class and the truly rich didn’t emerge until the Reagan years.
Being nothing more than glorified gamblers playing with other people's money, writes Krugman, the hedge fund operators are actually causing dangerous economic instability:
 More broadly, we’re still living in the shadow of a crisis brought on by a runaway financial industry. Total catastrophe was avoided by bailing out banks at taxpayer expense, but we’re still nowhere close to making up for job losses in the millions and economic losses in the trillions. Given that history, do you really want to claim that America’s top earners — who are mainly either financial managers or executives at big corporations — are economic heroes?
Not really. And as a wise man observed way back when, "I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all."

And what Krugman calls "the avoidance of total catastrophe" really is in the eye of the beholder -- and the myriad victims of the wealth mafia. Living in the shadow of a crisis? It's more like holding on for dear life within a raging tornado if you're still out of a job, lost your home, got your food stamp benefits cut by a cadre of bipartisan congressional millionaires, owe more in student loans than you could ever hope to repay in one low-wage lifetime.

My response to Krugman:
It's a runaway financial industry, all right, and it's still running wild, running roughshod over everything in its path. (That would be us.)
As former bank regulator and white collar crime expert Bill Black points out time and time again, not one Gordon Gekko clone on steroids has gone to jail since the crisis erupted.
At best, the regulatory and law enforcement race course stewards (Mary Jo White of the SEC, Eric Holder of the DOJ) are cowed and inept. At worst, they're complicit enablers, champing at the bit themselves to remount the funhouse carousel for the ride back to Wall Street.
Look at Timothy Geithner. He galloped from the N.Y. Fed to Treasury, leading the bank bailouts at taxpayer expense. And now, big surprise, he's grazing on untold millions in the green pastures of Warburg Pincus as a private equity stud.
Even ex-CIA General and Iraq surge-meister David Petraeus (who also has no financial acumen or credentials to speak of) got a gig telling other obscenely rich men what they want to hear. His luxury stall is located at the KKR private equity firm. (Because the multinational financiers have made a killing from our trillion dollar wars.)
Enter Elizabeth Warren, a national treasure if there ever was one, who's finally giving the elites a real run for their money. Her recent impassioned tirade against the Citigroup infiltration of the White House is one for the record books.
If anyone can hobble the lot of them, she can.
And no, she does not necessarily have to accomplish this from the Oval Office. Simple verbalization can work wonders. Her very existence within the closed media propaganda establishment is actually kind of miraculous all by itself. And that being said, I would love nothing more than to see a vibrant Democratic primary. Let Hillary face Warren, Bernie Sanders, even Howard Dean. 

But the political-media industrial complex would probably allow that spectacle to continue only for a finite period, until we've been sated on false hope, and Hillary's challengers are kicked to the curb. That would happen after the billions in ad revenue from a series of televised debates and SuperPac fund-raising has filled the establishment's coffers to bursting. What worked for the Republicans (the Tea Party "crazies" vs. Mitt Romney) can also work for the other wing of the Big Business Party.

 Remember: there's the ruling class, and then there's the rest of us.

 
The Biosphere of Citigroup Infiltration

12 comments:

James F Traynor said...

The continued political existence of Warren mystifies me. By all that I know and have experienced, she should be dead in the water. Yet there she is. I understand the existence of Bernie Saunders; he long ago branded himself with the scarlet letter 'S' for socialist, thus removing him as a threat on the political stage ( and that is what it is, a stage, nothing more). Does she believe it is not a stage? Really believe? We will see.

Zee said...

"The continued political existence of Warren mystifies me." --James F. Traynor

Really, James (and Karen)! I've only been away a few days and suddenly Prof. Warren has been "rehabilitated?"

Wasn't it only a few days and threads ago that Warren was kissing Hillary's ring--or posterior--and declaring that the latter would be a "terrific candidate?"

Clearly, Warren is keeping all her options open by talking tough "populism" on the one hand while sucking up to the Democratic Party establishment on the other. So who knows where she really "stands?" Or if she really "stands" for anything at all beyond herself once she's elected?

Which,of course, is the trajectory towards which most politicians tend once elected? That is, "self-perpetuation and integrity be damned?"

You know. Just like the previous "transformative figure" that Progressives sent to the White House with great fanfare ("We are the ones we have been waiting for" yada, yada, yada), only to discover that he was a whole lot more comfortable with the Wall Street crowd than with the "communities" that he once purported to "organize" in Chi Town.

There is, sad to say, nothing new under the sun when it comes to politicians. So it is ridiculuous to place all hope in a single individual as the "savior" come the next election.

Which is where I keep seeing Elizabeth Warren being "positioned" by Progressives, despite her obvious equivocation.

"Buyer beware!"

Clueless It Seems said...

Yup. But be careful. Just because Elizabeth Warren is a woman doesn't necessarily mean she's going to be the opposite of the greed is good types who should go to jail. Or something.

Party Bus Long Island said...

The politics play keen roll in any country soul.

Karen Garcia said...

Zee,

You misconstrue what I wrote.

I didn't say Warren should be president. I said that the very fact that her criticism of Wall Street is getting aired at all in the corporate press is an accomplishment.

Even if she is just another politician, her withering take-down of the banksters is refreshing to hear and read.

She said, probably tongue in cheek, that Hillary would be a "terrific candidate." She didn't specify for what party, and she definitely didn't go so far as to say Hillary would be a "terrific president." Warren has nuance, I'll give her that.

I said I'd love to see a Democratic primary. I'd love to see the Clintons vs. the Warrens and the Sanders. I thought I also made it clear that this eventuality would be purely for show, so as to avoid the appearance of a coronation. But the show would be entertaining, nonetheless. As long as we realize that we're not living in a functioning democracy, that is.

Never fear, I will hold Warren to the same standards as I do everybody else who purports to act in the public interest.

This blog will also never endorse a candidate from any party.

annenigma said...

It's so GREAT to hear Elizabeth Warren speak the truth *sigh*

Ok, time to wake up.

The DNC allows Elizabeth Warren to do or say what she does because it serves their strategy to pull progressives and liberals who are straying away back into the Democratic fold before elections. As we saw with Obama, what happens after elections is another matter. Talk is cheap.

It wasn't long ago that she showed her true colors when she folded on some issues, and I'm sure the DNC had a lot to do with that. They own our elected representatives. When people talk about the rich owning the government, look no further than the National Committees. They tell them how to vote and they also figure out who is allowed to break ranks temporarily to serve a particular purpose. They even force legislators to fundraise for THEM or they are punished in various ways. They must turn over a certain percentage each month to the DNC. It's like racketeering. Legislators have actually complained about how much time they spend fundraising, not for their OWN elections, but for the DNC.

All this anticipated competition leading up to the primaries serves to get the electorate engaged, motivating them to donate money and vote. Otherwise primaries and mid-term election are too boring. It also helps preserve the illusion that the people have a say in the matter. As far as the Presidential primaries go, any candidate that wins any delegates will in the end negotiate with Hillary to get their debt paid in exchange for releasing their candidates to her. That's how the game is played.They still get their face time on tv for their own future enrichment of one sort or another.

The Democrats should encourage Brian Schweitzer to get in on the act. He's a colorfully outspoken and entertaining populist Democrat who could really jazz up the scene, but he too would turn over his delegates to Hillary in a heartbeat. Winning personally is not the goal of most players in this game, except for the DNC's Chosen One - the one with the most money-power.

As George Carlin said in pre-Obama era and which has proven true, 'If you have hope, you're part of the problem' and 'The game is rigged. It's one big club and we ain't in it.'

Enjoy the show, folks!

Jay - Ottawa said...

Sing it, Annie, LOUD!

Throughout a career the politician aims to be everything to everybody, but she cannot start out on such a grand stage. She must first attain prominence in a niche within the grand pantheon of politicians. A niche, a shallow recess, especially one in a wall to display a statue.

Settled into a narrow niche, the idolized politician might stand for austerity, another for consumers, or labor, or Main Street. Or––foolishly––the poor, no matter how large the crowd of milling poor.

Everybody in the pantheon claims to be fighting for reform: basically to get back to some principle and the good old days or some shining future just out of reach except for one more election, and then another.

Politicians are inveterate promisers because they know that Promise in and of itself, thanks to humanity’s partiality for open-ended hope, keeps every impatient person patient and within the party line waiting and hoping for the politician to deliver, eventually.

Are you signed up for the newsletter of Bernie Sanders? He’s jumped from mayor to senator to presidential hopeful. As a voter thirsting for justice yourself, what’s not to like about Bernie’s positions on just about everything? He is all things to all lovers of fair play. He is currently testing the waters for a run at the White House. Unless the world turns upside down tomorrow, or unless he sells out in dark corners to pick up important allies, his legacy we already know will amount to an eloquent voice in the Senate and a damned nice looser.

Only in unusual times does a politician dare say outright that she or he is working for big corporations and more war. In 2008, Obama was very good at the game of making the big jump from one narrow niche to senator to everything for everybody. Hot air and blind hope put him where he is today. When the lights were on he was with the Volk; lights out and he was smoking cigars with fat cats and stroking generals.

Like all the rest, Elizabeth Warren began by settling into a niche. Senatorial office is broad, but she would confine herself even there at first to fair play in the marketplace. Lots of voters like that because we are all consumers and, hey, most of us have been cheated by Wall Street. Bottom line: she chose a small pedestal, attracting much attention as the new paladin for economic reform. That will prove to be as dead end as Bernie’s socialist (sort of) independent (more or less) niche.

As ambitious politicians pick up allies from other niches, they must compromise on principle. Again and again. To the degree that politicians play the game to win more allies––as well as the essential monied backers on the sidelines––their initial purity of purpose becomes clouded. Obama knows what he’s talking about when he plays the purity card. Eventually one’s many side deals with the devil add up to a surrender of soul itself.

Like Zee, I doubt Warren is playing deep chess with Hillary, innocently backing Lady Clinton till some future campaign when she, Warren, might credibly step forth as the party’s pick for honest reform. She’s doing what she has to do now to advance even one step in the game, to land a contract or two for Massachusetts and, later a real new deal for the nation. Yeah, right. How can she stroke the likes of Hillary and play nice with the rest of her party and not become hollow, soon to be a tool, witting or not, for some larger, darker agency?

Everybody knows, the game is rigged. Nothing new under the sun.

Zee said...

@Karen--

I apologize for implying that you (or James) were endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president.

Such was not my intention.

I have very much appreciated her efforts to publicly rake the banksters over the coals for their sins past and present, and to condemn the administration as well, for failing to send a single "Gordon Gekko" to jail.

Perhaps that's the best that we can hope for of a politician in this day and age.

PEARL said...

It is sickening to read the strong statements by the Obamas regarding their shock and horror at the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria and the danger they are facing. It doesn't seem to bother them that U.S.drones have killed many schoolchildren in various countries which are not reported in violation of UN regulations. Karen, I hope you will include this hypocrisy in one of your columns or comments with interesting statistics if you can find them.

traynorjf said...

Jeez Zee, relax. And yeah Pearl, the Obamas are hypocrites. Making political capital on those kids is pretty sickening. The whole thing is disgusting.

James F Traynor said...

Nice to see some new people showing up in comments

Will said...

All this talk about politicians makes me wanna crank John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDDJeM5R4PM

P.S. Happy Mother's Day, Karen, and all the other mothers out there in Sardonica! (Yep, new word. I like it.)