Blimp deflator: Letting out the gas

Anyone seen any ethical behavior recently?

Posted in economy, new zealand by Blimp deflator on July 6, 2012

Classroom ethics lesson
Manawatu Standard, July 6, 2012.

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Recrimination on the train to disaster

Posted in economy, humor, united states by Blimp deflator on July 5, 2012

Train to disaster
From the Manawatu Standard of June 23, 2012.

New book of note: Predator Nation

Posted in books, economy, united states by Blimp deflator on May 24, 2012

Predator Nation
It is no exaggeration to say that since the 1980s, much of the American (and global) financial sector has become criminalized, creating an industry culture that tolerates or even encourages systematic fraud. The behavior that caused the mortgage bubble and financial crisis was a natural outcome and continuation of this pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident.

It is important to understand that this behavior really is seriously criminal. We are not talking about neglecting some bureaucratic formality. We are talking about deliberate concealment of financial transactions that aided terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation, and large-scale tax evasion; assisting in concealment of criminal assets and activities by others; and directly committing frauds that substantially worsened the worst financial bubbles and crises since the Depression.

The above is an excerpt from How Financial Criminalization Crashed the Economy, and the Culprits Got Off Scot-Free, by Charles Ferguson, Director of the Wall Street documentary Inside Job. The article was published in the Huffington Post on May 23, 2012. Get the DVD of Inside Job if you haven’t already got it.

Urban myth: The college socialism experiment

Posted in economy by Blimp deflator on January 31, 2012

Urban myth: The college socialism experiment

This letter appeared in the Manawatu Standard on January 31, 2012. My reply, which I wrote the same afternoon:

T. Whyman’s tale, supposedly illustrating “Socialism’s folly” (Letters, January 31), is an urban myth that has been circulating since the mid-1990s, in recent years as a chain email. One of the latest versions of it has the classroom experiment being conducted at Texas Tech in 2009. There is, however, no evidence to support this claim. Other current versions of the tale appear to have been designed to discredit President Obama’s alleged socialism. In short, the whole thing is sheer bunkum, and a waste of newspaper space.

It should be obvious to any discerning person that this type of story is apocryphal (to use a charitable adjective). One’s suspicions should be immediately aroused by its careful exclusion of any facts (name of college, name of professor, date, etc.) that can be checked.

T. Whyman responded on February 9, 2012, as follows:

Missed the point

My reply, written on February 10:

With reference to T Why-
man’s letter of February 9: I don’t accept that his/her “analogy of socialism” works — except at the level of the comic strip, where individuals are reduced to automatons who act strictly in accordance with the ideological bias of the cartoonist.

Furthermore, his first letter (of January 31) effectively reverses the reality of our privatised and deregulated international order, in which those who are poorest — the virtual slaves in the sweatshops of the Third World — are actually those who work hardest.

Conversely, most of the super-rich make their money not through real work, or through any productive activity, but through a process that has seen them (a) gamble with their clients’ funds, (b) lose everything, (c) receive bailouts from the taxpayer, and (d) continue to pay themselves multi-million-dollar bonuses.

Call this “capitalism”, if you like. I call it a racket. These “banksters” have been compared with the Conquistadors of the 16th century, who looted the frontier of the New World.

The only difference now is that the “frontier” is the state, and that we, the citizens of the state, have replaced the hapless, bamboozled Aztecs and Incas. It’s hard for us to resist, because it’s hard for us to even grasp what is going on.

Oil found in NZ: Obama plans ‘humanitarian’ intervention

Posted in economy, new zealand, united states by Blimp deflator on January 29, 2012

Oil found in NZ: Obama plans 'humanitarian' intervention

Manawatu Standard, January 16, 2012

Cartoon by Malcolm Evans.

4Arabs search engine

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Capitalism a catastrophe, but still ‘best’ system, says Karl du Fresne

Posted in economy by Blimp deflator on January 28, 2012

Capitalism still best for world, says Du Fresne
Capitalism for poor, socialism for rich
A problem for the writer of letters to the editor is that a reply to a columnist must be made in 200 to 250 words, compared with the 1000 to 1500 words allotted to the columnist for the exposition of his or her case. If I had had more space, I might have pointed out that when the sweeping policies of deregulation/privatization were introduced, from the 1980s onward, they explicitly excluded any “moral” dimension. “Greed is good,” we were solemnly informed. When people were allowed to devote themselves entirely to the pursuit of their own interests, all sectors of society would eventually benefit. Even those at the bottom of the heap would see their standard of living rise, thanks to the “trickle-down effect” of the accumulation of wealth at the top.

As The Economist noted in 2002: “The case for greed was perhaps best made over 200 years ago by Adam Smith, who argued that the invisible hand of market forces would ensure that the efforts of individuals acting in pursuit of their own self-interest made society as a whole better off. In other words, judge capitalism not by the motives of the capitalists but by its fruit.”

Du Fresne an idiot

Earlier, in 1987, the fictional character Gordon Gekko summed up the thinking of the era when he said in the film Wall Street: “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

Clearly, there is no “moral compass” here, now waiting to be “rediscovered”. There are no “moral moorings”, which the deregulated and privatized system has unaccountably “slipped”.

Any “moral” action was left entirely to the discretion of the individual. A rich businessman could, if he wished, toss a coin to the beggar at his gate — in much the same way as an 11th-century robber baron distributed largesse. He could also use his wealth to create new industries and employment opportunities, and thereby give substance to the “trickle-down” theory.

In practice, he generally did neither. Instead, he chose to maximize his profits by closing his industries in the West and exporting their workers’ jobs to Third-World countries, where the elimination of local industries, mainly through the undercutting of local prices by imports of cheap food from the United States, had sent millions of potential slave laborers flooding into the cities. At the same time, he tended to blame the poor for their plight, by suggesting they lacked initiative and the necessary get-up-and-go attitude. (Note the tone of almost all the mainstream media comments on the various Occupy movements, and the emphasis placed on the protesters having beards, being “hygienically challenged”, and — horror of horrors! — handing out free condoms.)

This means that, today, many consumer products are made in Third World sweatshops, and are bought by Westerners who, if they want to maintain their “affluent” lifestyle, must increasingly do so by borrowing — and entering inter-generational debt servitude. The whole system is a racket that ultimately benefits no one except the super-rich, who must now resort to draconian security/surveillance measures, including the so-called War on Terror, to ensure a lid is kept firmly clamped on unrest. But as Michael Parenti points out in The Face of Imperialism (see earlier post), this “Third Worldization” of all countries is actually the objective of our present capitalist system — to which, the pundits stress ad nauseam, there is no alternative.

In short, what we are witnessing is tantamount to a revival of feudalism, cleverly obscured by the banners of “freedom” and “democracy” that it is promoted under, by an elite class that knows the world’s resources are either running out or being seriously degraded and that it must act decisively now to cement its position of privilege. When British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said in 1959 that “most of our people have never had it so good,” — usually paraphrased as “You’ve never had it so good” — he thought he was speaking only about the past. But we now know that his words are equally appropriate when put into the future tense. The “good times” of the late 1950s to late 1960s will never come again.

  • The column appeared in the Manawatu Standard on December 7, 2011. My reply was published on December 9, 2011.
  • The Face of Imperialism

    Posted in books, economy, history, united states by Blimp deflator on January 23, 2012

    The Face of ImperialismThe Face of Imperialism by Michael Parenti
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    “Excellent summary (in only 134 pages) of the monstrous crimes committed by the US empire as it attempts to control the world.”

    View all my reviews

    EXTRACT: The goal of US reactionary rulers is the Third Worldization of the entire world including Europe and North America, a New World Order in which capital rules supreme with no public sector services or labor unions to speak of; no prosperous, literate, effectively organized working class or highly educated middle class with rising expectations and a strong sense of entitlement; no public medical care, pension funds, occupational safety, or environmental and consumer protections, or any of the other insufferable things that might cut into profits and lead to a more egalitarian distribution of life chances.

    Cognitive dissonance: How we’re better off, despite the pain

    Posted in economy, united states by Blimp deflator on October 25, 2011

    The legacy of Reaganism — predatory lending and financial fraud — have taken the world to the brink of the abyss, yet somehow we are all better off — with the possible exception of the “squeezed” middle class, the writer below argues. She hails the “unprecedented global economic boom” that resulted from Reagan’s policies of tax cuts (largely for the rich), financial deregulation and privatization of state assets, and says that this has been most beneficial to “some of the world’s poorest people”. In my comment to the editor of the Manawatu Standard, where the article appeared on October 15, I point out that the World Bank statistics, on which this assertion is based, are highly suspect. (See letter to the editor below.) And incidentally, shouldn’t the word “boom” be replaced by “bubble”?
    Left struggles for sound bite
    Letter to the editor:

    I write in response to the article headlined “Left struggles for sound bite for US’s angst” (Manawatu Standard, October 15).

    The World Bank’s statistics, which show that “between 1981 and 2005 the number of people living in poverty in the developing world fell by 500 million”, have been challenged by several academics.

    In How Not to Count the Poor, Sanjay G Reddy and Thomas W Pogge, of Columbia University, say “the bank uses an arbitrary international poverty line that is not adequately anchored in any specification of the real requirements of human beings”, and that its approach is therefore “neither meaningful nor reliable”.

    The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs says global poverty levels “have changed very little over the past two decades” and that “the situation today may be even more deplorable than a money income poverty line would suggest”.

    As Adam W Parsons notes in his article “World Bank Poverty Figures: What Do They Mean?”: The World Bank uses statistics “to support its policies of deregulation, privatisation [and] market liberalisation…” In other words, the bank is a biased researcher whose “findings” are to be regarded with scepticism.

    To read the above article, click on it.


    Mainstream newspapers mock the Occupy movement

    Posted in economy, united states by Blimp deflator on October 25, 2011

    Non-united people's front

    To read the above article, click to enlarge it.

    Letter to editor: headLetter to editor: text
    The article is from the Manawatu Standard of October 12, 2011, and my comment on it is from the Manawatu Standard of October 19, 2011. The reader should immediately note that the article first appeared in The Times — a Murdoch newspaper. It thus comes from a publication that is, in itself, a target of popular protests against corporate greed and the manipulation of public opinion. One should not be surprised, therefore, to find the paper resurrecting an archetype of the anti-war/anti-apartheid demonstrations of past eras — the “skinny, bearded man” — and insinuating that such a character is in some way intrinsically disreputable. But just in case you don’t get the insinuation, the paper goes on to tell us that the Occupy protesters “know how to have fun” and — horror of horrors! — are handing out free condoms. Are we living in 2011, or in 1916 — when Margaret Sanger opened America’s first birth control clinic, in the malevolent shadow of the Comstock Act? Surely, in this day and age, anyone making condoms freely available should be praised for their sense of responsibility.

    The economic model is a criminal model, says Catherine Austin Fitts

    Posted in economy by Blimp deflator on August 25, 2011

    Below is a transcript of part of a discussion between Max Keiser and Catherine Austin Fitts, Assistant Secretary of Housing during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. The discussion was held on August 23, 2011, in the context of a show called The Keiser Report. (See link below.) The securitization of the economy is discussed, and is described by Keiser as “an inherently fraudulent business”. He also describes the current economy as a “ponzi scheme”. Fitts claims “a lot of the fraud is done with the intimate support and involvement of government”, and goes on to say:

    “The economic model is a criminal model . . . We have an economy that is dependent on war and organized crime, and, you know, part of the profits of that organized crime is part of what is keeping the whole economy going . It’s not just the banking system, it’s every community in America. . .
    “I think at the heart of the matter, Max, it’s not sort of ‘banks out of control’. I think at the heart of the matter it’s physical violence, because a lot of what has happened, particularly, you know, that as I understand in the United States, is . . . is you have people who are afraid to say ‘no’ because the result of saying ‘no’ is physical violence directed at them or their families. I mean, we’ve had lots of people murdered and assassinated, etc., etc. . . .
    “The reality is we have a force operating in the world that is completely. . . operating outside of the law and no one yet has come up with a way to stop it.
    “We’re talking about violent mobster operations. . . I hate to use a personal example, but I was, you know, a former Assistant Secretary of Housing and I had my own business in Washington and I was helping the Department of Housing and Urban Development essentially run things clean. And you had to get rid of the ‘clean team’ to run the housing bubble, and I was targeted, I was poisoned, I had dead animals left on my doorstep, my house was broken into, people tried to run me off the road.
    “You know, it was very, very violent, and it went on for years. So, you know, so people who try and run the Government clean or run Wall Street clean are targeted and literally, you know, have to fear for their lives.
    “I mean, people have been dying, so, you know, it’s a very, very dangerous situation, and the challenge is: If you have people who can kill and physically harass with impunity, how do you run a governance process?” (Transcript made by me.)

    The Keiser Report: Interview with Catherine Austin Fitts.