Saturday, October 10, 2015

Commentariat Central

I've been remiss in reposting my New York Times comments, mainly because I've also been remiss in actually writing New York Times comments. To honor your requests, here are some of my replies to various articles, dating back as far as last month, and in no particular order:

Paul Theroux, The Hypocrisy of 'Helping' the Poor:

 "Philanthrocapitalism" is one of the many ways that the rich get richer. It's an orchestrated attempt by oligarchs to discourage the politicians they own from raising their taxes. It pre-empts direct government aid to the poor.

If the rich didn't make so much money and gain so much influence by "giving," then they wouldn't be playing the game.

To many of them, helping the poor equates with controlling the poor. They wield their power by dividing the Deserving from the Undeserving Poor. Their noblesse oblige is not only undemocratic. It's anti-democratic. 

 Much plutocratic charity goes to elite universities and think tanks studying the poor from a distance, or to their own tax-exempt foundations. For example, Warren Buffett is giving away his billions, not directly to the needy, but directly to the Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation - besides concentrating on such worthy causes as polio eradication - has expanded its own financial empire into privatizing schools, funding Common Core, conducting teacher evaluations via corporations, inserting its own software into crumbling schools.

Paul Theroux tells it like it is. Enough with allowing obscenely rich people to stroke their egos by "raising awareness" through their platitudinous hashtag slogans and photo-ops.

Charity shouldn't be allowed to supplant or replace good public policy and programs.

 Tax the rich. Tax them good and hard.

So much of this charity is nothing but legalized money-laundering. 


Neil Irwin, How Hillary Would Regulate Wall Street:

  Neil Irwin writes that the repeal of Glass-Steagall had less to do with causing the financial crisis than liberals suggest.

Granted, its repeal was not the only cause of the banking collapse. But it was indeed part and parcel of several deregulatory measures spawned by the neoliberal project, of which Bill Clinton was a main architect and enabler.

Besides the Glass-Steagall repeal, he also signed the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated credit default swaps. He loosened lending rules via the Community Reinvestment Act, which paved the way for the subprime predatory lending epidemic and the subsequent foreclosure/fraudclosure free-for-all for which the too big to fails not only got a free pass, it made them even richer and bigger.

To be fair to Clinton, the repeal of Glass-Steagall effectively just gave retroactive immunity to Citigroup and other behemoths, who'd essentially been flouting the rules for years.

So bringing back Glass-Steagall would not be the miracle cure for what ails us. It would be far better to follow the advice of Sanders and Warren and just break up the banks as well as bringing back Glass-Steagall. Prosecuting and jailing financial crooks is also a must.

Hillary's nibbling around the edges of an oligarchy gone wild gives aid and comfort to the enemy. You don't hear Wall Street howling with pain over her tepid proposals, do you?

Paul Krugman, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe: 

 Jeb is selling himself as the perfect mattress for coddled corporations and plutocrats seeking sweet dreams for themselves and nightmares for everyone else. Trump is way too hard for their comfort, while Ben Carson's nihilism is soft in the head. Then along comes Jeb to pen a "just right" op-ed. He is that dangerous middle bear of the neoliberal brand. He sounds so darned reasonable the way he prescribes his mayhem.

Of course, regulations are only as good as how stringently they're enforced. This is the age of the deferred prosecution agreement and the slap-on-the-wrist fine. Not one Wall Street CEO has ever been held criminally accountable for frauds so epic that they collapsed the entire global banking system. Not one G.M. executive is being prosecuted for the scores of ignition switch deaths and injuries. If the Justice Dept. now offers a similar sweetheart deal to Volkswagen instead of throwing the prosecutorial book at the individuals who deliberately literally spewed tons of lethal contaminants into the air we all breathe, I think we can then rest assured that the corruption of government is well nigh complete.

When government agencies are headed by industry insiders. even the regulations remaining on the books can become travesties. A white collar criminal defense attorney heads the SEC, Citigroup effectively runs Treasury, and a scientist with deep ties to Big Pharma has just been nominated to head the FDA.

We need a clean-up -- and Howe.


Margaret Sullivan, Readers Will Rule, Says the Times, So Don't Be Shy:

 At the risk of sounding like a broken record (I have asked about this several times without getting a satisfactory response), please consider giving more people with an established history of excellent comments the magical green check mark.

Also, if one of the cute$y ways to double your digital revenue is to cause the page to jump around so much that when I think I am clicking on a chosen article all I get is a grotesque ad for a luxury item I neither want nor can afford, please knock it off! It makes me too nauseous to continue consuming all the wonderful content. It's especially a downer to click on Krugman only to suddenly have David Brooks's latest book report staring you in the face. Not least because it unfairly moves him up on the Most Populuh List.

Finally, I am under no illusion that I am in any way "empowered" by answering this survey. But it definitely #Raises My Awareness. So thanks for asking -:)

(The above comment explains why I have been so remiss lately in contributing to the reader comment sections!) 


Alan B. Krueger, The Minimum Wage: How Much Is Too Much?:

How much is too much, you ask? How about these annual CEO salaries:

David M. Zaslav, Discovery Communications: $156 million.

Mario J. Gabelli, Gamco Investors Inc: $88.5 million.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft: $84.3 million

Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp: $67.2 million

Poor Leonard Bell of Alexion Pharmaceuticals ranks at the rock bottom of the top 100 most highly paid CEOs, at a measly $20.5 million.


What we really need is a federal Maximum Wage Law. When the average CEO makes 350 times as much as the average worker, something is rotten in America. Yet here we have pundits and plutocrats moaning that it wouldn't be fair for hamburger flippers to actually be able to afford hamburger.

Go Bernie.


(Krueger's op-ed, posted early yesterday for the Sunday Review section, seems to be a ready-made centrist talking point for Hillary Clinton in this Tuesday's debate. Did I mention that Krueger just happens to be one of her economic advisers? Neither he nor the Times bothered to mention that little factoid.)


Gail Collins, House Chaos Crisis Inferno:

J.E.B. (John Ellis Bush) cluelessly speaks the truth as he whines that acronyms make no sense. The man himself is obfuscation personified, cravenly hiding behind a trio of initials in hopes of making us forget that he is a Bush. He is a misunderstander who complains about being misunderstood. But, just like his smarter brother George, he greatly misunderestimates the intelligence of the American voter. So don't count him out just yet. Ignorance is strength.

Ryan is another word-gamer. As the living anagram of his dead paramour, selfishness-cult author Ayn R(and), he absolutely deserves to be Speaker. For one thing, Speakers have had an uncanny historical tendency to resign in disgrace or exhaustion. For another thing, he'd no longer have the selfish Randian luxury of hiding his chicanery behind the fictional tripe and cherry-picked numbers and faked footnotes of his annual Budget of Social Darwinism. The Beltway myth of his astonishing wunderkind wonkery would crumble and fall as fast as the bridges and roads and schools that the Republicans refuse to fund.

The GOP has been a debacle for a long time. But the biggest disgraces of  all are the centrist media types who still insist on taking these enemies of the people seriously. For them, the tragedy is not the death of democracy and the corruption of politics by big money: It's that there is no chief inmate in charge of the asylum.

I so look forward to next week's Democratic debate, and the sanity of Bernie Sanders.


(I normally don't comment on Collins's shooting GOP fish in a barrel pieces, but this one is important because she reminds us that the Speaker of the House need not even be an elected member of the House. They can pick anyone they want. Some early nominees include ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Jon Stewart, and the dead Three Stooges. So let your imaginations run as wild as the wild and crazy Freedom Caucus!)


Cdog Zilla said...

Philanthropy is great, as far as it goes, but a just society is better. We don't give ourselves enough credit for the things we've accomplished in creating the social safety net. Ironically, we let the deadbeat, grifting wealthiest class hog the limelight and shower praise on themselves for their good deeds, while contemptuously arguing against Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc.

My slightly longer reflection on the topic is here: "Compassion ... and taxes?" at

Chris (AKA cdogzilla)

Jay–Ottawa said...

Good reflection, Chris, on seeing through phony philanthropy. On that fair day when everybody pays their fair share of taxes, philanthropy will become pointless. As long as society "needs" philanthropists and do-good charities, you'll know something's rotten at the core of government.

Going back two thousand years and then some more, scolds like us were making the same points: "Everything they do is done for people to see." Today the rich pose before cameras with blown up pictures of their tax-deductible cheque to the poor. Then they bolt bronze plaques to the walls of charities just so we don't forget the kindness of rich strangers. Another variation on the theme comes down from the ancients––Greek I believe: "Better a poor man in a rich city than a rich man in a poor city." And it gets worse when you're a member of a poor family in a poor city, which is more often the case in the US. The rich have no motivation to fix up the poor city because they are somewhere else, like a gated community, or a gold-plated highrise or offshore on a yacht.

But why be so serious about the disparities by quoting facts and statistics and moralists to restore our sense of proportion? Sardonicky stands for the dark laugh, the 'pop' from the needle in the hypocrit's balloon––and don't we have occasion in these times to pull out the needle and have a dark laugh. Here's Oscar Wilde with tongue in cheek on the charity of philanthropists.

"There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair."

Anonymous said...

The comment on Gail Collins was hilarious and spot on all at the same time. I am happy to see that, rightfully, it is the top rated comment as well.

Pearl said...

Why do many charities collect for an illness like Cancer, etc. when it should be part of the basic taxation structure to cover medical costs.
finances that are associated with many charities are not exactly clean and part of a donation often includes a portion for high salaries which may be hidden. Just take a look at the Clinton family Foundation which made the Clintons very wealthy and involved itself in favoritism back and forth with political allies.

Also, let us not forget that any good works from wealthy donors are with OUR money.
How do you think they became able to be seemingly generous to others and get big tax advantages as a result as well.

We need a non-profit society with regulations on salary limits as well as strong tax regulations.
with banks as an extension of a government department supervising.

It begins to sound like the only solution is a variety of Socialism combined with a welfare state or a democratic structure like Bernie is espousing with no capitalistic involvement.

Well, we can only dream on and hope for the best. Meanwhile according to a recent article, overstressed and overworked people are committing suicide in the finance sectors because they sign their lives over to their huge hours in order to cash in one day and wear their bodies and minds out.

I see that characteristic among those running for Presidential office now, like Hillary for example. Wonder if they ever sleep.

Pear; said...

Bernie Sanders vs. the Lamestream Media

Hope you can access this well written article from Politico. Read all 3 pages.

Meredith NYC said...

Pearl...interesting point. In the many countries with generations of universal health care systems, supported by taxes, do they have these charities collecting money for various illnesses? What about in Canada, with h/c for all since the 1960s or 70s?

Meredith NYC said...

The Times has big article, Sunday Page 1 on the few oligarch families sponsoring the 2016 elections---with photos of their mansions and estates. Very vivid.

Pres Jimmy Carter called the US an oligarchy, with big money needed just to run---for pres, governor or congress.

So who are the radicals and who are the conservatives in our warped illusory politics?

Bernie Sanders' policies were once quite centrist in the US--much higher wealth taxes, tax support for public colleges, and expansion of social security and medicare. Plus rising salaries and benefits for employed people, helped by high union membership nation wide, so all employed people benefited indirectly.

Nothing radical about Sanders. In fact, he's the real conservative, aiming to restore and conserve our traditions under attack, that made the US middle class the example for the world. Where will Clinton position herself on this, and if she evolves, will she follow through?

It's the Gop who are radical. They are trying to dismantle voting rights to increase their power. They aim to take down all the hard won progress that the New Deal and Great Society achieved over generations.

Control of corporate and Wall St directing our national policies should be middle of the road policy, like fair, sensible taxes and rule of law. This was once centrist in our politics, but now the media pundits have to be careful discussing this for fear of looking too out of step with the Influentials.

Once we had anti monopoly laws and usury laws, and separated investment from regular banking—all acceptable. Now to restore these is deemed too left wing.

Even to defend the majority now against exploitation by the 1 percent must itself be defended. It’s deemed a possible threat to free enterprise and capitalism itself. Once, regulated capitalism and middle class security could advance together, not be in opposition. Liberals could use this as a main argument, with concrete real people comparisons.

As Thom Hartmann just said on cspan In Depth----Pres Eisenhower’s 1956 Gop platform had Sanders type notions----soc security expansion, and acceptance of unions. He used the fed govt for one of history’s greatest national projects –the cross country highway system. A huge job creator, it grew the economy through greater ease and efficiency of transport. Ike called the rw ‘negligible and stupid’.

Sanders is the real conservative. Restore/conserve our past traditions, using govt to buttress the majority, not the elites. Today’s Gop is radical, anti American and seditious.

Can we start redefining or warped, cockeyed ideological spectrum labels?

Valerie said...

As one who nagged you into doing a blog entry now and then with your NYTimes comments, I thank you once again for succinct, insightful commentary. As usual, I like the commentary better than the articles themselves. My favourite was your response to How Hillary Would Regulate Wall Street. It is so easy for the readers to get distracted from the history of what Bill Clinton really did and what destructive legislation he ushered through in his two terms as president. Your reply was a good reminder.

We would all be foolish to think Hillary wouldn't be the same. Their daughter married an investment banker for Pete's sake! The Clintons are swimming waist high in banker doo-doo.

annenigma said...

Does anyone know if other heads of state engage in continual political fund raising while serving as President/Prime Minister? Does our President attend fund raising for any actual worthy causes, or just political ones?

When did that start in our country anyway? Doesn't it seem tacky and undignified? The favorite pastime of the rich and famous is to play dress-up and show off their bling, sip cocktails, and rub elbows and other body parts with other rich and famous people. It's what they do at all their 'philanthropic' events too. But charging admission to see the President? What a circus performance, putting the King of the Lions (Liars) on display for money.

The media report almost every day/night (or so it seems) that the President was at a fundraiser in one city or another the previous day, as if that's his full time job, being Beggar-in-Chief.

Meredith NYC said...

Annenigma....from what i gather, other heads of state and lawmakers don't have to fund raise all the time, or maybe much at all.

Many nations use public funds to pay for elections, with strict private donor limits, and crucially--free media time in short campaigns. No 2 year campaigns with the media daily reporting the fund raising of their lawmakers, and endless political ads bankrolled by billionaires.

If the media doesn't have to report fund raising, they'd be more freed up to discuss issues. The US is said to have the narrowest range of political choices among the democracies. They must be kept within limits of big donor restrictions.

So despite the wishes of the majority, we still have guns for all, but not health care for all. Even after all the deaths from guns and from lack of h/c over decades.

In other democracies, politicians have a better chance to work for voters, not rich sponsors. That's why they've had h/c for all for generations already, while we still can't achieve it.

We need reporting on this difference to show how democracies are supposed to operate, where corruption is still illegal, not legal like here thanks to Citizens United.