Tomgram: Mike Davis, Casino Capitalism, Obama, and Us

October 17, 2008

October 15, 2008

Recently, while traveling in the West, I had lunch at a modest-sized casino set in a wild, barren-looking, craggy landscape. On the hills above it spun giant, ivory white, modernistic windmills, looking for all the world like Martian invaders from War of the Worlds. I hadn’t been inside a casino since the 1970s — my mistake — and the experience was eye-poppingly wild. Venturing into its vast room of one-armed bandits and other games was like suddenly finding oneself inside a giant pinball machine for the digital age, everything gaudily lit, blinking, pinging, flashing, accompanied, of course, by a soundscape to match.

It was (as it was undoubtedly meant to be) strangely exhilarating, riveting, totally distracting, and a curious reminder right now of just how distracting “casino capitalism” — as Mike Davis calls it in today’s post — really has been. For years, with all the economic bells and whistles, all the mansions and yachts, all those arcane derivatives, all the high-tech glamour and glory, with Americans pouring into the stock market (or at least their pension plans and mutual funds doing it for them), you could almost not notice the increasingly barren, rocky world outside the American casino. You could almost not notice the shrinking of real value, of actual productivity in this country. These last weeks, Americans — those who weren’t already outside, at least — have been rudely shoved into the real world to assess what their value (personal, national, global) actually is.

The next president will look out over a new, far less dazzling, far more forbidding landscape. Mike Davis, author most recently of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire, who is little short of a national treasure, offers his own incandescent view of the landscape, presidential, economic, and otherwise, from the ledge at the edge of the canyon. (While you’re at it, check out a podcast of Davis discussing why the New Deal isn’t relevant as a solution today by clicking here.) Tom

Can Obama See the Grand Canyon?

On Presidential Blindness and Economic Catastrophe

By Mike Davis

Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.

The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an “awe that was almost painful to behold.” Ives’s expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.

Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Heather Wokusch: Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?

September 26, 2008

It’s good to hear back from my American friend, progressive writer, author, political commentator and blogger, Heather Wokusch.  Check out her two short videos and following links:

I’ve been on a short break from blogging, but recent events have gotten me riled up! If you have strong opinions about the Bush administration’s ‘toxic debt’ bailout and/or destabilization of Pakistan and Iran, then check out the ten-minute video I made called ‘Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?’ here:

Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?

The video provides background and context into these dangerous developments, as well as ideas for taking action.

I hope to be back to blogging on a regular basis soon, but for now, check out:
Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?

Links for sources cited in the video:

Bailout:
Crisis talks over $700B ‘toxic debt’ rescue plan
Bush: “The American people have got to know that I made this decision along with a lot of experts because it was necessary to protect them.”

Pakistan:
Washington is Risking War with Pakistan

The American War Moves to Pakistan

Iran:
Preparing The Battlefield July 07, 2008

Dutch intel: US to strike Iran in coming weeks September 1, 08

Israel asks U.S. for arms, air corridor to attack Iran September 11, 08

U.S. to sell IAF smart bombs for heavily fortified targets September 14, 08

Bush could still attack Iran September 17 08


US Bailout Protests Today, September 25th!

September 25, 2008

Protest the Bailout Today
There are more than 200 events planned coast to coast for today, September 25, protesting the Bush Administration’s proposed bailout.  Find an event near you and contact your elected reps and implore them to reject a plan that bails out Wall Street but not Main Street.


Naomi Klein: Now Is the Time to Resist Wall Street’s Shock Doctrine

September 24, 2008
Now Is the Time to Resist Wall Street’s Shock Doctrine
By Naomi Klein
The best summary of how the right plans to use the economic crisis to push through their policy wish list comes from Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. On Sunday.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20848.htm
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Arianna Huffington: The Bailout Plan: Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe

September 23, 2008

In the preface to her post, Arianna Huffington has this to say about the Paulson bailout package:

“Over the past 30 years, Americans have been bombarded with sermons evangelizing for the free market religion of the Right. In the course of selling us on buying, the market-worshippers tried to convince us that all concerns about the most vulnerable members of society could be left up to the soulless, self-correcting calculus of supply and demand. Government involvement was an anachronism, regulatory oversight an impediment. The last few weeks have demolished that notion. In the battle over the proper role of government, the high priests of the church of the Free Market — including Bush, Paulson, and the Masters of Wall Street — have suffered a monumental defeat. So why are we allowing them to dictate the terms of their surrender?

Arianna begins her corresponding article The Bailout Plan: Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe with this:

See if this sounds familiar:

There is a gathering threat to the safety of the United States. We must take immediate action. Congress must quickly grant the President and the Secretary what they want and also give them full and unfettered authority to execute the plan.

Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe (or as some have dubbed it, according to Paul Krugman, “the Authorization for Use of Financial Force”).

Even the amount of taxpayer money being bandied about — $1 trillion — is similar. Think you got your money’s worth for the Iraq war? Congratulations — you’re about to buy another pricey debacle.

[…]

Read the rest of this article here.


Tomgram: Steve Fraser, The End of a Gilded Age

September 18, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Nothing like asking for contributions on the eve of a potential economic meltdown, as I did the other day… so I was stunned that a number of you actually reached for the new “Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch” button to the right of the main screen and offered a hand. I can’t begin to tell those of you who did how appreciative I am, and how appreciative future TD writers, who may want to go somewhere to investigate something, are likely to be. (I’ll write you in person as soon as I dig out from under.)

In the meantime, here’s something TD readers can do to support this site’s well-being, should the urge to be helpful strike you. In addition to everyone who bookmarks TomDispatch, more than 20,000 of you now get emails letting you know whenever a new piece has been posted. Those emails, as you may have noticed, have just been snazzily redesigned to offer many windows into the site. It’s a perfect moment for new readers to sign on. Most of them do so thanks to word of mouth, a formidable force in the on-line world. For those of you already hooked on TD, I want to urge you to lend the site a little more of that word-of-mouth power. I hope you’ll consider putting together a modest list of friends, colleagues, relatives who might benefit from getting TomDispatch regularly, urge them to go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of the main screen, put in their e-mail addresses, answer the confirmation letter that will quickly arrive in their email in-boxes (or, fair warning, their spam folders), and join the TD crew. Where else, for instance, could you have read, last January, a piece by Chalmers Johnson, “Going Bankrupt,” on the weak underbelly of the American financial system only now beginning to unravel?]

Among the many media spectacles of the moment, the most unnerving is undoubtedly the crisis on Wall Street that has already essentially toppled Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch, and — probably not last and certainly not least — the gigantic insurance company AIG, which has just been given $85 billion in taxpayer moneys to liquidate itself. Before we’re done, that hoary old oxymoron of the Left, “late capitalism,” may gain new life.

Elsewhere on the planet, it turns out, it was more obvious that the U.S. was in crisis. One small sign of the changing state of the globe’s “sole superpower” is that, even before banking institutions started to tumble off walls like so many Humpty Dumpties, the International Monetary Fund, that dominatrix of global capital, was planning to pay Washington a working visit. This is the sort of thing you expect, with great trepidation, if you’re Haiti, or Pakistan, or Malawi, or Argentina on the brink of financial meltdown — but the United States? Nonetheless, according to NPR’s David Kestenbaum, “The U.S. Treasury says America has now agreed to get a stability assessment from the IMF. The announcement didn’t get much attention, but officials at the IMF expect to start examining U.S. finances in the next couple [of] months.”

Welcome to the Third World, America. Now, hold your hats while the whirlwind blows and the stock market goes into heart-attack mode. Steve Fraser, an expert on Gilded Ages (and how they end), as well as the author of a superb new book on our financial “masters of the universe” from the eighteenth century to the present, Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, brought up the dreaded “D” word (for depression) this April at TomDispatch when, in the mainstream, pundits were still wondering whether we might possibly, actually, really be edging toward, or near, a recession. He wrote at the time: “The current breakdown of the financial system is portentous. It threatens a general economic implosion more serious than anyone has witnessed for many decades. Depression, if that is what it turns out to be, together with the agonies of a misbegotten and lost war no one believes in any longer, could undermine whatever is left of the threadbare credibility of our Gilded Age elite.” Now he’s being quoted on the front page of the New York Times. How times (of every sort) have changed in just the space of a few months… Drawing on his knowledge of the history of Wall Street and Washington, now let him offer you now a little perspective for the months to come. Tom

Wall Street and Washington

How the Rules of the Game Have Changed

By Steve Fraser

What is Washington to do as the financial system collapses? Clearly, stark differences in approach as well as in public policy have already emerged. Bail-out Bear Stearns and pump up the brokerage and investment business with new lines of credit. Nationalize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the backs of the taxpayer — but let Lehman drown. Tell the financial community to save itself, after which Bank of America salutes and buys Merrill Lynch. Then, the Fed gets cold feet and decides it can’t let an institution the size of the insurance giant AIG go under as well. Washington is left staring into the abyss. The old rules no longer apply.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.