Monday, March 23, 2009

More cries of "coup," this time regarding AIG from Rolling Stone


Rolling Stone Magazine--I haven't read a copy of RS since 1992, so you probably know from this fact that they don't elicit much respect or admiration from me.

At best, the publication has been patently mainstream from its inception, a cheerleader of the consumer model, and a part of what's gotten us into the economic crisis we're now inhabiting.

Occasionally, the dinosaur ownership realizes at RS how inane and unimportant that they've become (once, the criticisms came from old school RS writers like the late Hunter S. Thompson) and pays someone to write something substantial about where things are at.

Their political articles are often belated pieces that would have had a better impact had someone commissioned them when the corruption and crimes were everywhere--occurring literally out in the open, down the street from RS's NYC offices--but advertisers don't like political coverage, especially when they're involved in the mess, and that would mean spending the money on a full time investigative team.

This doesn't fit into all the wonderful business models of recent times, so they don't have one, because since the introduction of CBS's "60 Minutes," the news is supposed to be profitable and entertaining.

Somehow, in this peculiarly adamant pro-business environment, we're being entreated to ditties from the Fourth Estate itself that "democracy will be inhibited without newspapers," yet when we had all of them they did little to protect it, making for a zero-sum loss in the age of the Internet. Yes, coverage will definitely become deeply "impaired" for a time, and there will likely be further consolidations of media, but what future will the survivors have in a generally wrecked economy? Being king is fine, but king of the garbage dump doesn't sound very grand to these ears.

One might also factor-in how hard it is to do business during widespread strikes and insurrection, but that's what defense contractors are for.

Into this bloody fray comes a Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi on AIG and--please bear with me--the notion that the Wall Street bailouts have been a "coup."I don't believe that it's that simple, that many of these critics have been dangerously naive about our system and its promises because of their own "successes" ("You're just jealous."), and that they're finally discovering how America really works. You know: the American people are usually the last to know, because there are "unknown knowns," in the thankfully inimitable words of Donald Rumsfeld.
...["]When one considers the comparatively extensive system of congressional checks and balances that goes into the spending of every dollar in the budget via the normal appropriations process, what's happening in the Fed amounts to something truly revolutionary,” a kind of shadow government with a budget many times the size of the normal federal outlay, administered dictatorially by one man, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. "We spend hours and hours and hours arguing over $10 million amendments on the floor of the Senate, but there has been no discussion about who has been receiving this $3 trillion," says Sen. Bernie Sanders. "It is beyond comprehension." ... ("Back to the Big Takeover," Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, April 2, 2009 issue)
If it's a "shadow government," it's only because Congress delegated those powers to the executive branch and consciously did so over a period of decades. The article at least makes this point clearly enough. It should be added that Sec. of Treasury Bernanke has to answer to the President of the United States, ultimately, since he might have problems with how the money gets spent...or not. Taibbi is wrong--it really is all about money, the only thing Americans can be roused to action by. In other words, the Treasury Department isn't a separate branch of government, although Taibbi and others seem to be suggesting that it is. Were it that simple.

But this has been a real point-of-contention with me, since a "coup" means a real world transfer of power, generally to people who weren't originally "in-charge," with at least some essence of "finality" to it, however fleeting. Paradoxical--yes--and welcome to the world of power politics where language and logic break down above the atomic level. Sure, the Treasury Department and the Fed have significantly more power at the moment, that's true, and that's really an expansion of the power of the executive branch in the end. Former Vice President Cheney must be proud of his contribution to all of this.

Not since Hitler has so much confusion been sown in the halls of a modern government. It helped to have enablers and other fellow travelers along the way. So, these calls of a "coup" are more than a little belated--they actually sound weird coming at this moment. Habeas corpus has been nominally restored through the courts, but significant breaches in our Constitution are still there. There were many voices on the left who warned about the economic crisis and the war on terror's rollback of our rights from the start, and a few on the right, and so on.

But they weren't especially passionate voices, and they were ignored as they usually are.

Where were all these cries from the right and the mainstream media during the passage of the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act? Off making money at the time, they couldn't be bothered to care at the time. When I question some of the "coup counters," they tend to settle on the term "paper coup," and neglect to go into any further details. A real world analog would help, like Yeltsin's creation of the Oligarchs through the Russian State granting them mineral rights, or similar moves in South America during the last sixty years. That would have been a business luncheon for the Bush II administration.

Perhaps it just sounds good to the ears, that "c-word." It gives one the appearance of being prescient, prophetic, like Ronald Reagan (in appearance only). Granted, the term "coup" is taking over (pun intended) throughout the political spectrum.

Taibbi continues:
...The state is now being asked not just to call off its regulators or give tax breaks or funnel a few contracts to connected companies; it is intervening directly in the economy, for the sole purpose of preserving the influence of the megafirms. In essence, Paulson used the bailout to transform the government into a giant bureaucracy of entitled assholedom, one that would socialize "toxic" risks but keep both the profits and the management of the bailed-out firms in private hands. Moreover, this whole process would be done in secret, away from the prying eyes of NASCAR dads, broke-ass liberals who read translations of French novels, subprime mortgage holders and other such financial losers. ... (Ibid)
And this is new in American history, because...? Frankly, I don't get it--these are the very same people in control of the system in the end (the original ones, the ones whose names are being withheld on TARP payout papers), the same super rich "investors" and business bureaucrats inside and outside of our government who played, and lost. Welcome to the inherent ( il)logic of our economy, you missed the memo. Was there some arch-conspiracy, or some kind of a plan to this? Were you paying attention?

This makes a grand leap of logic that these people on Wall Street were and are competent.

Are you kidding? Does it really look like they're good at anything done above board, legally? They aren't good at business, they cannot rule or govern effectively or sustainably, and it will all crash no matter how much they attempt to leave the rest of us with the bill. Their time is up, it's a given, even with these machinations that induce the apathetic, cynical, and gullible, to ascribe godlike powers to a bunch of Wall Street (and truth be know, Main Street) clowns.

That they're not good at business is a given, but that most of them are criminals has yet to be proven, but will be. They're going to keep playing the same games because it's all they know, and when the rules don't favor them they change the rules. Does that sound sustainable? Let them have their fun, playing with their Monopoly money, but if they get their way, any recovery is going to be short-lived in a system whose time came at least a generation ago, the rest being mythology.

Americans have often wrongly measured their freedoms and liberties through economic indicators and their ability to purchase while neglecting the very existence of a quality of life and the social contract. There will be plenty of time to reflect on that now.


"Back to the Big Takeover," Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, April 2, 2009 issue: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/26793903/the_big_takeover