Thursday, January 14, 2010

The joys of bankruptcy, or is this January 1914?

Angry populism lurks just beneath the surface of two-party politics in America. Just listen to Sarah Palin or her counterparts on American talk radio and yell television. Over the long term, the political stakes in reforming Wall Street are as high as the economic. Robert Reich - Financial Times
“The fact that Wall Street is enjoying record profits and bonuses in the wake of receiving trillions of dollars in government assistance — while so many families are struggling to stay afloat — has only heightened the sense of confusion.” Phil Angelides - Chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French...and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you, if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out -- the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other...They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come..."
Pat Robertson (enormously successful American, ultra-right, religious wacko)
David Seaton's News Links
One of my favorite commentators on world affairs is Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times: he is always insightful and fresh and often provocative in his rather sly, kindly, way.

Rachman has recently written a column that has caused quite a stir, entitled: "Bankruptcy could be good for America", where he says:
In Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a significant moment when the bear is asked whether he wants honey or condensed milk with his bread. He replies “both”. You can get away with this sort of thing if you are a much loved character in children’s literature. But it is more problematic when great nations start behaving in a childish fashion. When Americans are asked what they want – lower taxes, more lavish social spending or the world’s best-funded military machine – their collective answer tends to be “all of the above”.
He lists a series of financial crises which led to reform in a number of countries that has brought them increased prosperity and winds up:
(T)he Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) all needed a fiscal crisis to set them on the road to economic reform and national resurgence. America may one day be lucky enough to experience its very own national fiscal crisis. Let us hope it is not wasted.
It is hard to imagine such a fundamental part of the scheme of things as the USA going bankrupt, the effects could mean the end of financial life as we know it on our planet.  But having said that, a lot of bad things have happened over time that nobody in their right mind wanted to happen... but they did.

World War One, for example.

It came at the end of nearly a century of barely interrupted peace, years of progress in every field of human endeavor without equal in the history of our species

The extent of the destruction of our civilization, human, cultural, geopolitical and even psychological by World War One was "unimaginable" in the years running up to it. It was no less than the end of the idea of "progress": the inevitable march of humanity to a better state. And the way it started and developed in the summer of 1914, while supposedly powerful, intelligent men, who understood perfectly what was happening, looked on in helpless, impotent, horror, might be a foretelling of what we are living through today. The moral of the story is that just because a scenario is too horrible to contemplate is no reason that it couldn't occur.

Frankly, I don't think America's bankruptcy would be a good thing, especially because it would most probably lead to outright fascism in the USA. Americans are armed to the teeth and given to substance abuse and I don't think they are just going to meekly sit back and accept pauperization, especially now that the financial system has proved to be such a scam.

I don't think any of this will be led by Sarah Palin, I don't think she has the chops. Palin for me is a sort of "Joan the Baptist", not fit to the tie the sandal of the one she foretells: she is a sign, a portent of an effective way of addressing "ordinary people"... and not a good one.

I believe that Rupert Murdoch, like the German financiers that originally backed Hitler, will finally find himself in the position of having created someone he cannot control. I've got my eyes peeled, but I haven't seen America's version of Mussolini yet. But as function creates the organ, if the jobs don't come back, you can be sure this figure will appear. He or she already exists, but who exactly it is that at this very moment is slouching toward Jerusalem on the Potomac remains to be seen. There will be little to stand in this person's way unless the jobs come back. The jobs have to come back or there will be blood.

Of course at the heart of all this dysfunction is the paralysis of our political system which hasn't been this corrupt since the days of Jay Gould, a time when the world was a much simpler place. That colossal web of corruption is the "Catch-22" that makes any significant change in our society and its way of doing things of tenuous credibility

The movement that spawned Ronald Reagan has ruined America. The "conservative revolution" has been a political form of AIDS which has destroyed all the system's antibodies and left it prostrate and at the mercy of all the countless parasites, vultures and wiseguys that America has always produced, consumed avidly and even exported.

We have seen where the deregulation and laissez-faire of Reagan and Thatcher have finally taken us, those are yesterday's recipes and they are clearly failing the majority of the people in our developed countries and destroying the middle class which has been the secret of our post WWII social peace. It is time for the the market fundamentalists, the Milton Friedman-Taliban, to FOAD and let others step up to the plate.

Someone like me, who has become increasingly skeptical of the American political system, is tempted to see Barack Obama and Sarah Palin as two sides of the same coin; as the system's "good cop and bad cop"; Obamaites and Teabaggers, being mirror movements both acting as the system's "lighting rods", one on the left and the other in the right of what Gore Vidal calls "the party of property", leading the lightning bolts of people's righteous anger off harmlessly into the ground... leaving the interests of those who have caused the damage basically unaffected... Or are you seriously expecting Sarah Palin and Fox to rein in Wall Street? (You can see that Obama has no intention of really doing so by the people he has set to watch the store).

Taking into account the laughable bunch of odds and sods that passes for a "left" in the USA, the most probable movement will be to the wacko right. If the USA had any credible social democrats, even of the housebroken Olaf Palme or Willy Brandt variety, there might be some chance of putting the country on a proper footing. As it is, I think there is a good chance of some real trouble. Certainly, protectionism and trade wars are on the cards.

A tiny ray of hope:

Last Saturday I saw Michael Moore's latest film, "Capitalism, a love story". Aside from his stunts, like putting crime scene tape around Wall Street -- cheap clowning which I'm getting a little tired of -- much of the film was brilliant. Especially the montage section about the rise of Reagan and its consequences.

What really impressed me for its political daring was the "Liberation Theology" line that Moore was taking. He affirms without any caveats in the film that capitalism isn't "Christian": that the values of capitalism are totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In other words, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Moore even had a couple of priests and bishop, say this clearly in the film.

The talk itself wasn't that surprising to me, I grew up around a lot of Catholic progressives. A cousin of mine from Saint Louis was Michael Harrington's closest friend since they were babies and his mother and Harrington's mother were inseparable friends since they were little girls. Thus I am totally aware that not all Irish Catholics are like Pat Buchanan. So I'm sure this is not something that just popped into Michael Moore's head: these are his roots.

Now, Michael Moore is nothing if not an opportunist and he is very shrewd and a masterful agitation-propagandist from head to foot, and as an icon of the left, I think he feels that the moment is ripe for Liberation Theology.

I hope he is right.

Americans are very religious people, by and large and if there is one thing that unites most working class and rural whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, it is their love for Jesus, who, as Moore points out, was never a friend of the wealthy and the powerful... As embarrassing as many of my readers may find that simple statement of fact.

There has to be found or be created, an overlap between American progressives and the Evangelicals. That is why I often say that what the American left needs today is a new William Jennings Bryant.

In a sense the question is: are American progressives going to identify defending American workers, their homes and their jobs as their primary task or are they going to identify themselves as defenders of the values of an illustrated upper-middle class? Both positions have their value, but it might be more intelligent at this moment to defend the first and reserve the second for better times.

The one thing that  I am sure of is that if the jobs don't come back to the USA real quick there is going to be hell to pay. Globalization is going to fall apart on that one. The jobs have to come back or everything will fall apart. DS


Kurz said...

Interesting article.

...but Rachman's article refers to crisis much as the IMF does, and seems to contradict Naomi Klein.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

That is the orthodoxy. Klein is attacking what has been the official line for years. Gideon Rachman writes for the Financial Times.

Publius said...

Good article, David.
The alliance between the religious working class/rural poor and the progressives is LONG overdue. I would place the blame primarily at the feet of the well-educated progressive activists, who often have an unfounded contempt for religion. They should begin their education by reading William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience." Anyone who reads this book by an avowed progressive and anti-war, anti-imperialist could never look down on religion again.

Regarding the fact that Americans are so well-armed, I don't really follow your reasoning on how that would lead to fascism. Fascism and totalitarianism arose in nations where the populace was basically disarmed and defenseless. Solzhenitsyn has even written that people should have started to shoot back... How does a well-armed civilian populace help to support the process of taking a nation over politically by a statist/fascist elite?

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

It's not so much that they have the guns, it is why they have the guns that leads to fascism: Fear, paranoia, racism, fantasies of violence etc. These weapons would be useless in the face of the US Army, if it were in the hands of a dictator; the only real defense against fascism is consciousness.

RLaing said... looks like Fukuyama was somewhat premature in declaring the end of history. It just keeps rolling on, doesn't it?

Anyhow, if by Fascism we mean the merger of state and corporation, to prevent it from rising in America will require the services of a time machine--that process is essentially complete. Nor do I think, on the whole, that Americans find fascism objectionable--the thing itself that is, not the nazi cartoon.

America's rulers have little choice at this point but to direct the hostility of the people outward, towards all those 'furriners' who are the real cause of America's troubles. Certainly it is late in the game to switch to justifying their hold on power by pointing to the magnificent job they are doing of looking after the public interest.

stunted said...

All the progressives, who are sounding more and more like Obama's battered housewives, have to do to consecrate this alliance is join the Tea Party. These are the working class religious, rural or urban. Unfotunately, they abhor liberals more than anything and are seeking the eradication of progressive thought as a political force in America, not an alliance with it.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

As Rumsfeld used to say, "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you would like to have".

The teabaggers are an AstroTurf movement, they exist so that poor people mobilize so that the rich won't have to pay taxes...

Trotsky might have advised infiltrating the Teabaggers and taking over the movement.

What the both the teabaggers and Obama's presidential campaign (both artificial) demonstrate is that there is a big demand for a genuine populist movement. For it to be progressive it needs a MLK type, a William Jennings Bryant that delivers left-wing content using the language of the New Testament

stunted said...

I have great difficulty seeing how left wing content is at all soluble in New Testament language in this country. You are a long-time resident in a country that took centuries to throw off the yoke of New Testament rule to finally enjoy secular government, yet America's political salvation hinges on theology? If capitalism isn't Christian, then surely neither were slavery nor genocide of indiginous populations, yet they were the two New Testament tools for conquering the New World. Americans, in any case, as Rachman posits, have a smorgasborg approach to all aspects of life, picking what they want and ignoring what is inconvenient. Saying that capitalism isn't Christian and thinking that will make an impression on the collective American psyche betrays a logic that is totally absent here; a linear frame of perception that is too "well-educated", as Publius would have it. Americans are Chritian and immigrant haters; Christian and homophobes; Christians who want to keep Christ in Christmas and pedophile priests out of prison; Christian and sneeringly condescending of the Muslim faith. Of course, Liberation theology shows that believers can be progressive, as many brave men and women have shown around the world. I just don't see it here, where we get a Mike Huckabee or the well-coiffed Mormon. I've always been myopic, but like my patron saint, I'll believe it when I see it. Personally, I don't find religion and political thought compatible except as a repressive force when applied to a society as a whole, but I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong if this person you evoke should happen to materialize from the mists.